Friday, November 4, 2011

Is the R-word the worst swear word???

BACKGROUND INFO: For those who don't know, 6-9yo's are obsessed with swear words. The knowledge of such is the topic of much recess conversation. My kids talk about the F-word, the A-word and the S-word frequently (but hilariously, they don't actually know what the words are, just the first letters).

So this is the dinner conversation with my 9yo two nights ago:

9yo: One of the boys found a swear word in the Spanish word search.
Me: Yeah? Seems kind of weird for a word search.
9yo: Yeah, he said it was the worst one EVER but I don't know if it's a swear word.
Me: Huh.
9yo: It was the R-word.
Me: Hmm...I don't know any R swear words. Not even in Spanish. I think he was making it up.
(30 minutes later)
9yo: I keep thinking about that word. Can I write it down and you tell me if it's a swear word?
Me: Okay.

And then she hands me a slip of paper and the air whooshes out of my lungs.


I was speechless. I didn't know what to say. My daughter doesn't even know where babies come from (I'm a feminist, I am ready and willing to have that conversation with her, but she has ZERO interest so I don't push it). How the heck was I supposed to respond to this piece of paper?

This is what I said: Jojo, this is a terrible word for many reasons. But it's not a swear word. It's a grown up word that I don't think you're ready for yet. But when you're ready, I'll tell you. I don't want you asking other kids what this means. This is a conversation for you and me to have when you're older.

I have no idea if this was a good response. I've been stewing about it ever since. Part of me is glad that this boy thinks the R-word is the worst swear word. Part of me wonders how he heard it in the first place (although honestly, it could have been anywhere). Part of me wants to pull my daughter out of school and protect her from all this. She's 9 years old. I don't want her introduction to sex to be wrapped into violence.

But the truth is, mine was. And I have worked for many years with an organization (The Voices and Faces Project) whose mission is to not brush the issue of rape under the rug. Whose mission is to deconstruct the rape culture we live in so that good dialogue can happen around this issue and change can be affected.

I worry that by not explaining this word to my daughter, I am (possibly) allowing someone else to create the lens for her. But still, I'm not ready to tell her yet. At the SCBWI LA conference, Donna Jo Napoli said we must write about horrible things not only for those who have experienced them, but also for those who haven't so that those who have been sheltered may develop empathy and compassion. I agree with this completely. And yet, when my 9yo wants to know what rape is, the words can't form in my mouth. And I'm not convinced that they should. Yet.

I'm very curious as to what other parents would have done in this situation. Did I miss an opportunity for dialogue or am I rightly allowing my daughter to hang on to her innocence for a little bit longer???


Jolene Perry said...

That would be a scary convo to have with a nine-year old.

And I'm SO agreed on what we should write.
JUST sent one off to my agent last night about a girl who's killed in just a crappy, crappy accident that her bf tries to cover up.
And yeah. I got the idea from something that happened in high school . . .

Sarah LaPolla said...

This post scares me, but I think if I were a parent I'd have reacted the same way you did. At that age, they shouldn't have to define "rape" before they're able to define "sex." I think the best thing to do is teach boys how to respect girls and to teach girls to be strong and confident. Those are things they can learn before puberty that they'll carry with them once they do understand those words.

Alison Miller said...

Wow. I had the sex and puberty chat with my daughter about that time, but never went into too many "gory" details. I don't know how I would've handled it any other way than you did without opening up conversations that would probably scar more than help. I don't know.

Although I do agree that kids should know about situations that they haven't and hopefully maybe will never go through - but only when they're mentally ready.

Great, insightful, thought-provoking post.

Emily R. King said...

My first thought is "She's nine! Let her be nine!" But it seems kids are growing up faster and faster and faster. I'm having talks with my son about pornography and gun safety, and he's six! Rape, however, is a subject I have not yet tackled. I have discussed unwanted touching, which is necessary before any child goes to school. I think your response was what works for you. If you don't feel comfortable talking to your daughter about rape, don't. There's no reason in the world that I can think of that she HAS to know this right now. Some things can wait, and I'm all for letting a child have his/her innocence as long as possible. I'm sorry you're going through this already. What the crap is wrong with the world?!?!

Brinda said...

The sad part is that these things are discussed in school/peer groups earlier and earlier. I remember an incident when I was in the 6th grade (a LONG time ago). I didn't know about condoms. My DAD had given me a very "biology" oriented sex talk when I was in 5th grade. During this incident, I remember being teased by a group of girls. One held the condom up in an unsupervised classroom and taunted me with it asking if I knew what it was. I was embarrassed because I suspected that it was something to cause me embarrassment. Your daughter's experience sounds very different from mine. I'm not comparing to make a point. It just reminded me of this experience.

Jenny S. Morris said...

I would have responded the same way. But, I think I would keep an ear out for her conversations. Maybe bring it up again, in a round about way, just to see if she is discussing it with kids.

zinnia said...

We have followed the advice of Birds and Bees and Kids lady, Amy Lang. I love her and having followed her process about this kind of dialogue with kids I have felt really good about it. It diffuses the subject by keeping it natural, something you would talk about with your kids from early on and throughout their lives as things come up rather than one big shebang conversation at some point.

Jess said...

I think your response was perfect. I would have said something similar to my 9 yo. I think you have to follow what your mother's intuition tells you. We know our kids best, and we owe it to them to keep an open dialogue. The hard part is knowing when to say more. I think it's awesome that you've started the conversation. She sounds like a smart kiddo--I bet she'll ask for more information when she's ready for the answer.

Mandie Baxter said...

You handled this perfectly! Better than I would have. I think by you telling her you will talk to her about it when she's READY (not older) is excellent. That is something that she'll remember. Kids hate being told "when your older". Not about age but maturity, two different things. Well done Mom! I'm going to have to remember your response for future convos like that.

Bruce said...

I don't think that you missed an opportunity for dialogue. You clearly expressed your willingness to discuss it and you demonstrated your availability. You can follow-up with a qualifier like, "I said 'when you are older and 'when you are ready'. We can decide together when that time is; come to me when you have questions.".

My 8-year-old was shooting the finger in the car on the way to school this week, which led to a frank discussion (in front of the 3-year-old) about flipping the bird. Do you remember how difficult is was to make your fingers bend like that compared to how naturally it happens now?

Deana said...

I agree with Jess. We know our kids best. I think at that age some kids need to hear it and some don't. Its devastating that these talks have to happen at ask. My heart goes out to you and I fearfully await the day my 7 year old asks the scary questions like that.

Heather said...

That's so, so tough. I don't envy you my friend. Unfortunately, her curiosity has been piqued and once that happens, most kids don't give up. As long as you're open and approachable~which of course I know you are :)~then she'll come to you.

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

Wow Christa, I would not have been able to come up with even that much on the spot. I think you handled it beautifully. It sounds like your response was calm and clear-- if she keeps talking about it, then continue the conversation. If she drops it for now, then I think that's also okay. I'm not sure there's one "right" response.

LisaAnn said...

The air whooshed from my lungs when I read that word, too. I think you are incredibly brave for all the thought and intention you are putting into this. The conversation will happen when it needs to happen, and it sounds like you've already laid a very strong foundation for a future conversation.

Unknown said...

I remember my parents gave me this chat when I was around your daughter's age. I don't know if maybe I was more mature or something, but it don't think I was traumatized or something.

My kids have asked me what does that word mean, too. But in Spanish that word has many different meanings. So I always skirt over that awful meaning. (In Spanish, rape has the same word as violation.)

Unknown said...

I was intrigued by the R-word post title, since I couldn't think of an R-word. And like you, I was not prepared when I actually saw it.

What a tough situation. I think you handled it beautifully.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

I don't know what I would tell my 10yo daughter, either, if she asked me about that word. We've talked about sex, but the r-word is a whole other ball game. I agree, I don't want her to know about all that yet. Ugh. No, I think you did the right thing. I guess you can see if she keeps bringing it up. If she does, you might have to have a conversation. Best of luck, my friend!


Alexis Bass said...

Okay, for this you are brave and awesome. Mother’s always amaze me with their ability to think-on-their feet during these type of situations. I think you handled this difficult situation perfectly. And now if she does want to talk about it more, she knows she can ask you.

Anonymous said...

In my family, which includes a lovely teenage boy who has a developmental delay "The R word" means "retarded" which kids and teens throw around like confetti. As for rape, my seven year old doesn't know about sex yet either, but we have had a conversation about how most men are much stronger than women and that it is a vile and terrible thing for a man to hurt a woman.

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