How far to go with children?

I want to write when I was a child, twelve or thirteen years old, I wasn’t obsessed about sex and these modern issues that kids learn on the internet now. I want to feel that with only pen and paper, books and microfiches I was immune to the adult world of complications, emotional vulnerability and confusion.

I go back and remember me at the age of Sofia, who is telling me loudly as we walk down a street in Riga, emotionally repressed Riga, about the different flags for transexuals, lesbians, male gays, transvestites and other sexual opportunities that weren’t readily available when I was her age. I didn’t know there was more than the rainbow flag.

In my days of transition I remember getting into trouble in mathematics class because a friend and I were writing rude poetry. It was about the maths teacher having sex with the head of year over a black toilet seat. She didn’t escalate it to him (obviously, we discovered to our delight and relief) but we got detention. Given our means, we were exploring as widely as we could. The fact is, if there was more information, we would have gobbled it up.

In Biology, we were told about frogs reproducing and then in the same style, human’s reproducing. I don’t remember when I learnt about lesbianism. I do remember asking my parents what bondage is and being told it is a warehouse to hold items that have not had tax paid yet. Confusing. The boys at school were not talking about that. I remember my mum answering me that condoms were like balloons. I remember wishing someone would just tell me the truth about things – not for me to experience them but simply to not be so confused and in constant threat of being mocked in the playground.

She asks, ‘How do you identify? What are your pronouns?’ I wonder how she knows about all this that I have only just got under my belt, if I have. ‘’She’, ‘Him’’ I say by mistake. ‘I mean, ‘She’, ‘Her’, I identify as female’. But it’s not so simple. ‘I was a tomboy.’
‘Like a demigirl?’
She looks up the definition for me on the internet, in seconds, and reads, ‘Demigirl is a gender where a person partially identifies as a woman or with feminine characteristics’.
‘I guess, I have always considered myself androgenous.’
‘And what is your sexuality?’ she asks, because she wants to know how real all this is on the internet, when the world around her is pretty much locked down to a conversation around these matters. She is in solitary confinement because of her age.
‘I don’t know…’ I mean it’s actually what I’ve been thinking about recently. A single woman. I’ve become rather unenamoured of the average middle-aged man scrambling to prove his dreams are not broken. And in a recent workshop ‘From Shame to Shine’ I began to wonder if lesbianism is brewing within me again. ‘I mean, I don’t know. If I like a person, and want to hang out with them, I dig them and start to miss them when they aren’t around, well…’ But I’ve also been considering the whole structures of relationship within the social world. I don’t know if special relationship isn’t just another way for the ego to hold sway over us, distracting us from what is.

What is, is so simple.

I’ve been watching films and finding the whole romance thing to be ridiculous. Is this perimenopause or a social shift? I hear women wondering why they spent so much of their life chasing men. What for?

‘Exactly!’ she says as if I have somehow co-signed one of her formulations that I have no idea about.

‘You like men and women?’ she asks, digging, wanting to simply connect, to feel heard, to be alive.

‘Well, at the moment I’ve been identifying as straight, but I’m not sure about it.’

She nods, as if this is all the same to her. I feel her drinking it in, this real conversation about things she has, I presume, only read about, seen in films.

I worry about her. She is fed hours and hours and hours of screens, of the devouring mother, to numb-out with. Fed but not nourished. I remember asking her what she had done over a break and she had mentioned her experiences moving from big to small screens, from TVs to tablets to phones. So much exposure without the slightest parental protection.

I am her teacher. Should I be even talking to her about these things that are so burning her up? Should I be encouraging adult talk? Discussing with an impressionable mind, matters I am not sure about myself? Should I leave her to her loneliness and lack of adult support? I don’t. I can’t.

This conversation is not age appropriate, but neither is her life. I continue chatting with her, as if this kind of conversation were normal, because frankly, for me it is. I’m 47. But how to know what is going through her mind or what she is understanding with each word? I listen, I realise that if she is ready to ask she is ready to have answers. Without any class preparation, on the spot, I decide to be as truthful about my own perspective as possible. It is vulnerable.

I read messages on facebook, ‘If only we could teach this to our children!’ Feeding into a wish that ‘modern issues’ we have not managed to settle ourselves well will hopefully be transformed by education: let’s teach about race, gender, freedom etc. But how to talk to a child about these important life issues that are becoming less and less clear to me?

Take polyamory, which thankfully, for now, hasn’t come up. For me, it feels like a system that, to do well, demands high levels of empathy, ability to process one’s own shadow and consciousness. And yet, given the state of our collective, is open to pitfalls, projection and pain. How to teach a kid to go into the world that hasn’t yet caught up to itself?

Kids are closer to knowing, skimping over the surface of things, rapidly collecting information without yet embodying it. Not afraid to take on new ideas, to lose the old. Being in the moment, here and now. I worry about rent.

But what I worry about too is that until we, as adults, accept the state of the world – as it is – we are blindly leaving children alone to figure out what only they can see.

I walk with them, talking to the little kids who are still little kids, protected by their family, going to piano lessons and learning to dance, they tell me about how expensive their phones are. They are 10 and 11. I ask why they need them. So films look good. I say, ‘Don’t you have a computer to stream them on?’ Yes, but that is at home and when they are on the tram (that is old and soviet looking) they want to be able to have a good pixelated picture. I say, ‘But you are only on the tram fifteen minutes!’
‘Yes, but Julia, I am … I need … what is the word?’ she asks to the other English students,
‘Yes, I am addicted.’

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