We have four kids: a young woman (21) and three teen boys aged 19, 17, and 12. All of them have had some version of “The Conversation”, and I think we’ve gotten better at it over time. For the girl it was about power, consent, and being safe and for the boys it was about power, consent, and being safe — but with a different reading of “being safe”. Besides all the mechanical stuff involving everything from sex to birth control to gender and identity (which we do at a younger age, around 8-10), we go through everything from the circus-like sexuality of internet porn to the insidious expectation-setting of mainstream media to how to read a room to gaslighting and the importance of enthusiastic consent and creating safe spaces (which we do by about 11 or 12 years of age and then top up later, around 15). Some of the pressure on these talks would have been alleviated with some age-appropriate books geared to the middle-grader. Looks like that’s starting to become a proper reality. I have no idea of the quality of the books here, but I’m glad to see they’re being attempted, regardless.
Young adult books, geared toward teenagers, have long explored topics such as sexual violence, but middle-grade writers have largely steered clear because of resistant parents and publishers wary of scaring them off. Yet a range of research and data show that many children are exposed to sexual harassment or abuse.
In a 2016 study published in Children and Youth Services Review, a third of sixth graders and more than half of seventh graders reported having experienced some form of sexualized harassment, most commonly in the form of lewd comments or jokes, with girls more likely to be on the receiving end than boys. According to the anti-sexual violence group Rainn, child protective services in the United States find evidence of or substantiate sexual-abuse claims every nine minutes.
“We’re waiting until they’re in high school to have conversations around harassment and sexualized mistreatment,” said Lisa Damour, an author and clinical psychologist who specializes in the experiences of teenage and young girls, but by then, “the topic is three or four years old.”
There’s a benefit, she said, in “talking about these things in a controlled or displaced way before they arrive in real life.”