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Monday, August 08, 2005

Adventures in Mentoring

My mentee, a slim, quiet 10-year-old Latina, lives in a trailer with a big, boisterous family. An awful lot of TV watching goes on there - in fact, TV watching is the default activity - and this summer I wanted to keep her reading, so I take her to the used bookstore from time to time and say, "you pick it, and if you promise to read it, I'll buy it for you."

I'm not so keen about some of her choices. I admit groaned a bit when she showed up with "The Princess Diaries (Volume II)." She had seen the movie so she was excited about the book. On an airplane I, too, saw part of the movie, so I knew it was about a klutzy girl who turns out to be royalty and gets princess lessons from her grandmother, Julie Andrews.

Yes, idiotic, obvious, insipid G-rated Disney drek. (Andrews must have gagged before exiting her trailer each morning.) But harmless, right? If my mentee (I will call her Menticia from now on) would read it, then fine.

So she started reading it to me in the car. Uh-oh, blindsided by modernity. First paragraph ends with the word "premenstrual" and the first page ends with "My mom is having my Algebra teacher's baby."

Second and third pages: "Now my mother has to get pregnant out of wedlock. ... Why weren't she and Mr. Gianini using birth control? ... Whatever happened to her diaphragm? I know she has one ... and what about condoms? Do people my mother's age think they are immune to sexually transmitted diseases? They are obviously not immune to pregnancy, so what gives?"

I silently reviewed my choices.
  • Say: "Menticia, you are too young for this book."
  • Say: "let's just skip over the words you don't know."
  • Suck it up and provide some explanations.
I never really had to do sex ed with my daughter, because at her school the birds and the bees lectures begin in third grade. But in Menticia's school, they start in fifth grade. And, clearly, her mom hasn't broached the subject.

So Menticia's watching me out of the corner of her eye, curious and amused and maybe thinking she's in front of the Door of the Great Mysteries and - it's not locked.

I'm thinking: these days, ten year old girls sometimes start mentruating. There's an awful lot of this stuff on TV. And girls do scare each each with other ridiculous stories, like one I heard not too long ago: "You get pregnant when a guy pees on your belly button."

So I open door #3. And start laying out mild, sketchy outlines of the Great Mysteries. And say: "if you want to know more, just ask." I know if she's not ready she won't ask.

Next problem: what to do with this hot potato of a book? If she takes it home, hmm, even though it would be safe from her parents, who don't read English, her sister could bust her. So: "let's keep this book at my house and we'll read it together."

Since then Mia, the dorky princess, has obsessed that her "lack of breast size lends disturbing androgyny" and has also revealed that her father had testicular cancer (yikes, but then, there's Lance Armstrong) and it's because he's now sterile that she is going to be the next queen of Genovia.

Jeez, was all this in the movie? (I saw it without the headphones.)

What would YOU have done if you found yourself in my situation?

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At 8:10 AM, Blogger Isabella K said...

Yikes! Sounds like you're handling the situation pretty well. Me, I wouldn't've bought the book in the first place. I would've forced Narnia or Harry Potter on her. I'm not sure I could do this mentoring thing.

(I had sex ed in 7th grade. 5th grade sounds reasonable to me.)

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Cass said...

No, all that was *not* in the movie. The first case I have ever found where the movie was better (at least as far as too much info for young people).

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Red Queen said...

Good luck on the mentoring. Remember that there are no stupid questions, just ones that make adults blush-ugh. I have been wandering aimlessly through your blog and enjoying it all. Come visit sometime. Be blessed.

At 6:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, let me say, I've seen the movie, and NO, none of those things were in there.

Secondly, you could gently tell her that there are books with better stories that are more interesting. Sometimes I've come across books that just weren't that good, so I ditch them for something better. For instance, any of Marguerite Henry's horse stories are quality reading. If she's not interested much in horses, how about James Herriot's animal stories for children...they are hilarious. Other good books...Heidi, Little Women, Tom Sawyer, Girl of the Limberlost.

A site you might check out that has a great reading list by grade level is:

Good luck!

At 6:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 7:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't sound too appropriate for a 10-year-old. My sixteen-year-old was reading it and I guess that's OK, though it's probably junk.

The kids love the Harry Potter books and those are well-written, very imaginative and seem to inspire them to do their own story-telling and writing. I recommend those.

Of course, you can't take the book away. That would just make it more alluring. I guess you have to stick with it now.

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Nancy said...

I think you handled it well. No sense in beating around the bush on these matters and its far better, like you said, than your mentee getting some wacked misinformation from her friends. I'm very honest and straight-forward when my students ask me about sex and sexuality. Anything else would be disrespectful, I think and they appreciate my frankness. I have the benefit of being comfortable discussing these issues because my mom's partner is the director of AIDS education programming for New York State. I grew up with all this knowledge and I think I made better decisions when I was older because of it, such as holding off on sex when I was in high school, etc. So, keep it up--like you said, if she has questions and wants to know more, she'll ask and you should be direct and factual.

At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree you handled it with aplomb. Watching you out of the corner of her eye, she may know all that you told and more and just was quizzing you. I remember babysitting a precious 9 year old had textbook explicit understanding of "things beyond his years".

At 8:55 AM, Blogger Gem said...

If you want another alternative, there is a series about historical princesses, I think it's by the publishers of the American Girls series. Very neat stuff about other cultures as well as the stresses of being a princess.

At 3:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I teach 9 and 10 year olds and most of the kids would be asking me what a good chunk of those words meant, for pete's sake! I wonder how much of the bit from the book that you posted was actually being understood by Menticia? Yes, the word 'sex' and the fact that mom is pregnant by teacher, but
premarital, premenstrual, wedlock,diaphragm, immune, transmitted, lack, androgyny? Seriously, I doubt it.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

I can't remember the source now, but I saw somewhere that 10 per cent of girls start menstruating at 10 now, so they certainly need to know about that. (Have you read historic accounts of girls who started without having any idea what it was? They can be heart-rending in their fear and confusion.)

And I'm nearly 40 now, and I started menstruating at 10 - its never been that uncommon.

And of course if they are menstruating, they need to know about the birds and the bees ...

At 9:44 PM, Anonymous pixordia said...

I think I would Google for 'age-ten appropriate' books. I am not up with the latest for children as i was never able to have any. I think the purpose of stories is to teach a moral lesson and often think the modern stories fall short of this gaol.
I have heard "Chicken Soup for the Soul" does have a wonderful collection, and especially liked the mermaid and the King of the Sea.


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