Parenting in this modern age is hard – especially when your family is the type that doesn’t allow what everyone else’s family allows. In our family, we are pretty strict when it comes to the shows our kids watch, their access to video games and the internet, and bedtimes. Sometimes my kids complain about it, but they’re getting older and are beginning to see some negative effects of looser parenting in their friends and classmates. As a teacher, my students are often shocked when I tell them the rules at my house – my 13 and 10 year old eat what I cook or not at all, are in bed by nine, read every day (ok, mostly), practice their instruments, and aren’t allowed to play video games on school nights. We used to not allow even TV on school nights, but as they’ve aged we’ve let that slide if homework and chores are done. My son has a phone and it is locked up like national secrets are held inside. He doesn’t know any of the passwords for parental controls or to add apps. He doesn’t even have internet access on his phone, and a few times this school year I got texts during the day when his teachers would let the kids play test review trivia games that required him to log in to a session using his phone. The texts, to which I never responded, all looked something like this:
Mom what’s the restrictions password
Mom we’re playing a review game
Mom I need the password
I hate restrictions now it’s too late
Sorry, son. I know that soon I will have to loosen up and let him have more freedom so he can learn how to be appropriate with internet access, apps, social media, and more. The point is that I’m a careful parent. However, there is one area in which I am not restrictive. I am open and honest with my kids about race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, and I let them read widely and diversely. I tell them the truth, and let them read the truth, no holding back (with age appropriateness in mind). I know many of my friends, and even family members, probably disagree with me on this. When it comes to talks of race, many of them are still of the “we don’t see color in our family” mentality. These two articles illustrate the problems with this philosophy if you’d like to read more – here and here. Now that I’m a teacher, a mom, and a reading advocate, my social justice soul won’t allow me to be anything less than honest with my kids. I’ve tried to educate myself over the past few years on the issues people from these groups face, and listen to or read about the perspectives of people from marginalized groups when they share their stories. I do it because I want to understand, and I want to pass that understanding on to my children. We buy and read lots of books, and I make a point to buy diverse books written by diverse authors – my kids read more books about people different from them than similar. As a parent, it’s my job to mold them into responsible, empathetic, social justice-minded citizens, and we need to read all we can about others so I can do that job well.
As with all aspects of parenting, no matter how hard you try to keep your kids’ world controlled and full of only the things you want poured into their heads, the outside world busts in and messes things up. This has happened in our family, and we had to do some damage control. One incident that comes to mind was when my son was in 5th grade and was going through the school district’s adopted drug-free program. Kids learn about the dangers of drugs from local police officers, and “graduate” with a certificate after signing an oath to remain drug free. My son came home from school one day and, as my husband listened to his playlist of rap music, announced that rap artists are all drug dealers and criminals, according to what he learned in the program at his school. That took some undoing, and many books and conversations later my son understands the lies and limitations of that statement. For great lists of books for kids of all ages that focus on Black voices, check out The Brown Bookshelf. There are many great books that show the truth and bust stereotypes. Another time, just this past year, my daughter was learning about Texas history in 4th grade. At the beginning of the year they (briefly) study the various Native groups that once lived freely on the land now called Texas. When I asked her what she learned she immediately told me about one Native American tribe that “actually ate the people they killed.” Now, in our family, we read all sorts of books, fiction and nonfiction, about Native people. As a mom, I work hard to dispel the stereotypes and myths that haunt people of Native cultures, as well as others. I do the same as a teacher with my co-teachers in our Social Studies classes. So, I was shocked that my daughter came home with this little tidbit from her lesson at school. I’m not even sure there’s any truth to this notion, this myth, so why tell the students at all? Even if there is a tiny speck of truth to it, there are so, so many interesting and valuable things to know about the Native people that live (and lived) in this area – why share something sensational and scandalous with a room full of nine year olds? Many of those kids will only ever remember that one “fact”, and nothing else, from that unit of study. I was perplexed, and had more undoing to do with my daughter, which meant we read books. Lots more books. I always use the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog for a list of books that are good representations of Native people, and it has never steered me wrong.
Even though my kids have a diverse group of friends, we use books to learn about people, time periods, and life situations that are different from our own. There are so many negative messages about people of various marginalized groups infiltrating my children’s lives from those in power – both locally and nationally – that I feel an urgency to show them literature that speaks the truths about these people. After all, I only get my kids for a short time, and I’m raising white, heterosexual, cisgender kids; it’s my responsibility to help them recognize their privilege and know how to listen to those who aren’t included in it. Reading diverse literature is the first step in their young lives toward becoming not only allies, but accomplices, to their friends and peers of color, who are LGBTQ, who practice other religions, or who have disabilities. Books open their hearts and minds to the lives of these people, and they learn to listen to their stories in ways they may not always encounter in our daily life. Which reminds me – we better get reading!