Originally, I was going to write about why I tell kids ‘I put my cat down’ instead of ‘I killed my cat.’ *I have a whole wordy thing about why I very deliberately say, “I killed my cat” instead of, “I put my cat to sleep” and it is not up for discussion because it is based on how it feels to me when I do it. so. It doesn’t mean I think I am making the wrong choice. Shhh different post. Moving on.
It was going to be a post about giving kids what they can manage. Not ‘I wanted to protect them from xyz truth’ but, ‘I chose to use this word because the amount of responsibility that goes with the other word is not something a child of seven needs to absorb right now.’ I was going to write about how words are more than just words, and part of our jobs as adults is to help show them each word’s power as they grow.
I also thought I could be quasi funny, and I would list little shitty lies (most of them about oh noe I have no idea where your chocolate went oh noe I think that movie isn’t in the theaters anymore oh I’m so sorry Barney and SpongeBob got lost in outer space and can’t be on the TV anymore oh noe).
But the more I sat with the title of the post (which I loved and am not changing whatever fuck reasons), the more wrong any sort of post about lying to kids felt to me.
I make a point of never lying to my students. I don’t lie when I’m wrong; I own that shit front and center because kids need to see adults take ownership. I apologize and refrain from justifying my mistake with any sort of bullshit passing of responsibility. I don’t gloss over the tricky areas of an opera or a book that we’re discussing. When kids asked me if I liked Twilight, I told them exactly why I didn’t. When I taught excerpts from Carmen, I told them exactly who Carmen was.
Ok, though. I do cater to age. I didn’t tell my seven year old kids that Carmen was a prostitute; I said Carmen was one of my favorite female characters because she was strong, independent, and opinionated in a world filled with women who were required to fit some sort of mold in order to be deemed worthwhile. I told them Carmen was judged for her choices, and that sometimes judgment is misinformed.
I told the older crew (the Twilight crowd) exactly what I thought of the relationships described in the book. I told them exactly what I thought of the writing and gave examples of other passages from other writers that I thought were more successful. I told them more because their investment in the issues involved was deeper. It didn’t have to do with whether or not I thought the younger guys could handle learning about sex; it had to do with where they were in familiarity with the concepts surrounding something like prostitution. When we do talk about sex work, I want them to be confident about seeing women as equals so that it will feel weird to then judge one for an action that involves two consenting adults. I want them to have an understanding of gender and self autonomy before I bring in the social issues and taboos around sex and prostitution.
I think ‘dishonesty’ around kids is interesting; for me, it’s almost never about protecting the child from something. It’s more about the narrative; whose voice in this particular topic matters most. And so I tread lightly when it’s not mine, or when certain norms have already been settled in such a way as to make honoring the narrative more fraught.
But it’s never about what kids can or cannot handle. Kids shine lights for adults every single day, and I’ll be damned if I sit here on my crusty throne of experience and tout that kids cannot handle whatever concept I’ve reserved for adulthood. It’s about showing them the story in a way that opens doors rather than merely reaffirming certain ones still exist. It’s getting them excited about a narrative that isn’t their own. It is, once again, about planting empathy.
So I can’t write a piece about the little white lies we tell children without casting a stone for the relentless truth in every character we introduce to them.