I love it when someone asks me advice. For a person with a blog named Merry Meddling, it’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.
Question: My 7-year-old is an advanced reader and she really wants to read her middle school brother’s books. Do you think that’s okay? She listens to the same music he listens to, so it seems like it’s alright.
Time To Meddle: A 7-year-old and an 11-year-old are cognitively in completely different universes. While she may be able to read what he reads, she won’t be able to comprehend it all, or in the same way. Where there are gaps, her imagination will fill them, and in a way that makes sense only to a 7-year-old.
To share an example, one day at a book signing, a mom with a second-grader in tow bought one of my books for her middle school son. While we chatted, her 7-year-old grabbed the book and began reading it, sounding out unfamiliar words as she went.
She reached a conversation in which one character teased another by stating, “Everything your father says sounds like a bumper sticker.”
The little girl looked up. “What does a bumper sticker sound like?” she asked.
You can see that although she could truly read the words, she didn’t have the cognitive development, or the experience, to understand the content of what she was reading.
Her mom was lucky that she asked. Questions create the opportunity for filling in gaps in a way she can understand.
But, how many times did we, as children, fill in the gaps ourselves? (Don’t get me started on the possible scenario for intercourse that my 5th-grade brain created after seeing my first picture of a naked boy in health class.)
The point is I would keep an eye on what she reads and listens to. I used to read the books my daughter read so I would know some of what she was exposed to. I loved the Animorph Series but I struggled with the Babysitters Club books (for third graders and up). That’s when I stopped being so diligent, and that’s when she imitated the behavior of a character – while in school – and got into trouble…
for cheating on a test.
The teacher called me in and showed me two identical test papers with identical wrong answers on them. Without asking the two culprits, she knew my second grade darling had been the cheater because it was the first test she had gotten wrong answers on. We both knew if she had done her own work, her answers would have all been right. (No, I’m not bragging, honest!)
However, as that evening’s discussion revealed, the book character had spied on another paper and copied it… so, that’s what my growing girl did.
Her reason? She wanted to know what it was like.
The consequences? I had her show me the chapter in her book about cheating, and I read that thing – page after page depicting an anxiety about passing that justified the act for the character – until I found the consequences:
One sentence about being grounded for two weeks.
That was it. One measly sentence! Not enough to impact a little girl looking to shake things up a bit.
So, we grounded her for two weeks. Grounding was a new experience for all of us. I was expecting it to be noteworthy in late middle school, not early elementary, so I was unprepared (hence, the hasty “check the book” solution, which turned out to be the right solution).
Initially, she agreed—this consequence made sense since it was in the book, and since she was acting out the plot. I think at first, secretly she was a little excited to be grounded, to be able to share the drama with her friends, and see their eyes widen when she told her story.
However, she started protesting her limitations around the third or fourth day, telling us two weeks was unreasonably long. We cleverly parlayed that into another discussion about not believing everything you read, and reinforced the fact that the transgression and the consequences both had come from her book, which she grudgingly accepted.
Until she had to miss a party that fell in the middle of those two weeks.
After a weekend of wailing at the unfairness of it all, she sat down next to me and announced that cheating was stupid, she had no idea why anyone did it, and being grounded was the worst.
I serenely agreed.
The moral of this story— 2nd graders should read 2nd grade books. 3rd graders should read 3rd grade books. 4th graders should read 4th grade books. Etc.
AND, parents should know what their kids are reading ALWAYS, plus ask them questions about the consequences of the plot twists. It’s a great way to connect with your young readers, like having a private mini book club!
As for the music young ones listen to, some of those lyrical concepts have created gaps your child has already filled.
I went for years believing Marvin Gaye had been eavesdropping in a garden next to a grapevine that hid him from two people gossiping about his girlfriend (I Heard It Through the Grapevine.) I never mentioned it to anybody, so no one ever corrected me. I had no idea my literal interpretation was off. I actually may have made it to college before someone revealed that not all grapevines were plants.
There’s no need to make a big deal about sheltering them from mature concepts in the lyrics. You don’t have to tell them you’re removing the music they’ve been listening to. Simply add more music to their repertoire.
All you have to do is provide songs with positive lyrics. If you need some help with ideas, there’s a list of uplifting songs on my YouTube channel that was created by the teens in my mother/daughter retreat.
Have you picked up your free copy of How To Get Your Happy On? It contains a great discussion on mood and music that you can share with your older kids.
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