I remember the first time I was swept away by a book. I was reading Gone with the Wind as a young teen, and noon became dinner time in what seemed like 5 minutes. I still recall my delight at finally understanding why people said that reading could be magic; I felt like a grown up secret had been revealed to me when I experienced the sense of being transported through time and by developing what seemed like a real emotional attachment to the characters.
Later, while reading the wildly popular ”’Flowers in the Attic” series of books and I felt torn as themes of love and longing came into the story, confounded by the fact that the attraction was between siblings. The female protagonist in the book describes her powerful, newfound feeling by saying “I was coming alive, feeling things I hadn’t felt before. Strange achings, longings. Wanting something, and not knowing what is was that woke me up at night”. And no doubt, those same feelings were happening to me and millions of other readers.
As a parent, I relied on ratings when evaluating media my child might consume. The young adult specialists of American Library Association use the “YA,” or Young Adult designation for books they deem appropriate for readers between the ages of 12 and 18. There is a world of difference among kids at either end of this age group and YA books deal with some very mature themes. So-called ‘coming of age’ stories are prominent in this genre and often include a theme of a young person experiencing a grown-up challenge or experience for the first time. Young love and first romance are common and a young reader’s reaction to detailed descriptions of strong feelings and romantic interludes, – even the ones that don’t involve actual sex – may be surprisingly intense. Many kids experience their first stirrings of sexual arousal while reading.
Discussing books with our kids can provide a drama-free opportunity to discuss sexuality; you’re not asking them to do something or forbidding them from something else. A shared interest in a book can be a great conversation-starter to help guide your child toward healthy attitudes about gender roles, intimacy, respect, love, relationships, communication and other areas. We can share our own feeling about books and characters we’ve loved: “One reason we love a book it makes us feel things,” you might explain. “A murder mystery might scare you, an adventure story may get you excited about something and a romance may stir up sexual feelings.” This conversation might feel awkward if you’ve never broached the issue of sexual feelings with your child, but it’s a good place to start. This conversation can be especially important for our daughters; sexual arousal is way less obvious for them than it is for our sons and it’s good for them to have a name for that warm feeling they get when reading about love or romance. Boys and girls both reap lifelong benefits from the knowledge that arousal is a reflex, something their body does in response to stimulation, whether they want it to happen or not… that’s a topic for another blog!
Books are a tool for connecting with our kids of all ages. They learned about love and intimacy during cozy toddler moments as they drifted off to sleep in our lap listening to their favorite story. As they enter the “YA” phase, they stand to learn many more lessons about love and intimacy, and we can continue to help make sure they understand the lessons!
Note — this post origionally appeared at 5 Minutes for Mom — see http://bit.ly/SPc56F