Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We Have A Lot to Process

Today when I picked her up from a playdate, Laura pulled a little plastic bag out of her backpack. "Look what I got."  She gave me a look that I couldn't read. It was kind of wide-eyed and foreboding with a touch of nine year-old theatrics thrown in.

I looked in the bag.  It was an Always maxi pad sample, a tiny deodorant, and a little booklet.  "Ah," I said.  "Look at that."

She said, "We watched a video.  All the girls got called out of the classroom, and we said, 'Are we in trouble?' But we went and watched a movie.  And one girl said she had to go back to the classroom because it was too much for her.  And we got to ask questions and got goody bags."

Then I remembered having gotten a letter about this event.  It said that the fourth-grade girls would be watching a video and having a discussion about puberty, led by the school nurse. We could opt out if we wanted. I read it and then kind of forgot about it. My two kids together bring home a ream of paper a week, and I am pretty much scanning for things I have to do, you know? Like last Thursday, my preschool carpool buddy dropped Hank off and said, "You and I are trouble for not sending in our decorated turkeys."  I was all, "Our whosiwhatford?"  She goes, "Yeah, it's a piece of yellow paper they brought home.  Or it's not really yellow, just yellowish and the whole family is supposed to decorate it." I was like, "Oh for the love."

So I forgot about the puberty discush.  But when she brought home the maxi pad, I was ready to fully engage.

I asked, "So what did the video talk about?" and "What kinds of questions did people ask?" and stuff like that.  I always try to avoid leading the witness. She told me the video was called "Always Changing," and she gave me a pretty comprehensive play-by-play.  I thought she had known more about this stuff than she in fact had, it seemed like some of the whole period thing took her by surprise.  How many times does that happen in life, that your kids know less than you thought?

I said, "So that was a lot of information for you to take in.  What did you make of it?"

She said, "It was horrifying."

I think what she was was a bit embarrassed.  And nervous, maybe. She kept talking, and then I talked, and she talked some more, and it was one of those absolute parental decathlon moments where you're listening to their words and also what's behind the words and trying to be sure they're informed while reassuring them that life is not changing overnight.  All in the time it took me to drive one mile in light traffic.  We can both talk fast.

I guess maybe I should have told her all this already, but it had not come up.  Or actually, that's not true, it had come up and she had never pursued it, and I don't believe in answering questions that are not being asked.

And horrified or not, she was also quite interested, because after we got home, Matt's mom arrived, and Laura sat her down in the dining room and told her all about it.

Then I noticed that this whole video/booklet/sample bag is a Procter & Gamble thing that they bundle up send out to schools.  The letter had said as much.  I went to their website and watched the video.  They have one for fourth grade and one for fifth grade, girls and boys.  I have mixed feelings about that.  On one hand, I remember, fondly, my friends and I poring over a little booklet put out by the Tampax people when I was a girl.  Though I don't think we were in fourth-grade, and I don't think it came from school.  Of course, by that time I'd read Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, thus earning the equivalent of a Ph.D. in menstruation theory.  I think I got good information from the little Tambrands book when I was a kid, and the "Always Changing" book Laura brought home was well-written, engaging, and age-appropriate.

Thought I couldn't resist saying, "Ew, a pituitary gland, gross!"

But in the middle of the booklet, right after a discussion of appocrine and eccrine sweat, was a two-page layout detailing the fine Secret family of antiperspirant/deodorant products, with a little picture of each of the seven (!) kinds of "protection," in scents like "Cocoa Butter Kiss," "Rockstar Rose," and "Va Va Vanilla."  I didn't realize that deodorant products were being packaged and marketed with such an eye to tween appeal, I guess I am way behind.

Does my nine year-old really need to decide between "clinical strength" and "invisible solid" at this point in her development?

I just pointed it out to Laura and said, "Look, this is an ad. The people who made the video also want to sell you their brand of deodorant.  This is a lot of good information, but they're also making it seem like needing 31 flavors of deodorant is a normal part of growing up."  She got it; I mean, critical media studies is like a key part of modern parenting, and these kids get it.  Children with even glancing exposure to television and the internet know they are being sold to, hard.  I do not think that commercials are poisonous, not at all, I just think it's something to point out and teach awareness of.

But it made me think, how difficult would it be for a schools to come up with a non-branded, purely educational unit on puberty and development and use that?  I know it wouldn't come with a snazzy goody bag.  But we are not talking about a lot of content: a twenty-five minute film and a discussion session.

Is it just that it's so easy to use P&G's?  And it's free? Is their material of such a high quality that it is worth the in-school advertising?        

And then I wondered, is this information being given to kids earlier, i.e., at a younger age, because children are reaching puberty earlier, or because the corporate profit-motivation is to create brand-awareness earlier?

I didn't really blink at the four pages of different maxi pad products at the end of the booklet, because that seemed more on-topic, and it even made me nostalgic for my Judy Blume days.  But the Secret deodorant thing seemed obtrusive.  What do y'all think?  Are your elementary schoolers hearing about this stuff already?

So yes, we have a lot to let percolate in our little brains.

After we talked, Laura said, "Okay, the only man in the whole world who can know about this puberty issue is Daddy."

I was like, "Oh, naturally."  I assured her, no other male could even comprehend such a phenomenon.


Hootie said...

When I was a kid, they showed these films on a Friday. So I was at PATS. So I have no idea what you are talking about right now.

Calandreya said...

We opted out. By the time my daughter reached the age where she would have been given this class, she'd been given several classes from other sources. Of course, the school thought we were backward parents, which was kind of the opposite of what was going on, but my daughter thanked us for not making her sit through it all AGAIN.

Judy said...

Becky, many years ago when I was in 4th grade, we had the same Talk at School, so it's been happening at this age for 50+ years. More recently, when I was an elementary school guidance counselor, I was the coordinator for said videos. Our school district did find a professional video, free of commercials, and use it. There are many, many out there. They just cost the district $$ and the ones sponsored by the deodorant and pad companies are free. School districts love free!!

Hootie, no excuses! You were supposed to do make-up work for whatever you missed while at PATS...

Jenni said...

We had the talk in fifth grade at my school, but my mom filled me a year earlier.

It is a little horrifying, she's right there. And embarrassing for sure. I remember when I told my mom when I got my period (I was 12) and she was PROUD or something. I was disgusted. It was mortifying.

Jenni said...

Well handled, you, though. Always a model of progressing and positive parenting, Becky!

PS, no way am I have the puberty talk with my boys. That one is ALL Nelson.

Elle said...

The rabbis say the child who does not ask must be told, and I am always thinking about that, although at my house, the child who does not ask is generally overlistening to the answers to his sister's questions, so same difference.

We are extremely open & proactive here at our house, like friends joke all the time about how at the threshold of our door you are entering Sweden, which is obvsly why both children can give you chapter & verse on transvestitism vs transgendering, but do not know any words in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Anyhow. Blah, blah, blah, I only wanted to endorse for you the American Girl book about bodies or whatever it is called. V much detail, a lot of it about incremental development, which I think is so important, for them to have the tools to recognize this is not happening! overnight! xo

Michele R said...

We're in the same state but apparently things vary by county. In mine it is a 5th grade talk given by a county employee and I don't think there are products pushed (but I'm gonna look into it). Our boys got the talk by Hubs at age 8. The county offers an excellent parent/child discussion given in January at some county building.
But onto the deoderant. From a teacher's point of view they may be glad if the student hears about deoderant from someone. Unless you are a student of my Hubs. In which case he tells the students and the parents in the beginning of the year they are old enough for it, and need it, and after recess and P.E. the other teachers in his wing are very grateful he is not shy about discussing it.
And brand name advertising to 4th graders is totally discussion-worthy--good job. Sort of reminds me of OB nurses who wear pins with Similac printed on them.

Kori said...

With my son (in 5th grade), it was Old Spice deodorant and a very detailed little book. My very NON-shy boy came home and told me that he thinks he has already had wet dreams. Nice. I think that our kids ARE hitting puberty earlier; my two oldest kids and I took a class a couple of years ago called Strengthening Families and one of the things they talked about in the sex part of it was that if your kid doesn't know how about condoms and how to use them, by the time they are NINE, you are asking for trouble. Strange. Unsettling.

janimal said...

I had a sister older by 15 years, who during her monthly visit would lay on the couch, moan and complain about her period. I can't remember a time NOT knowing I would get a period one day, and I dreaded it. So when the videos were rolled at school, in the 5th grade I believe, it was old hat to me. Although I think the picture in my mind of my overdramatic sister in writhing pain scared me more than was necessary.
I agree that 4th grade is a bit MUCH to be pushing deodorant ads on kids. And why overload them with all the silly options?

Anonymous said...

If my school (Catholic, southern) had waited until fifth grade, it would have been too late for me, and that shit was NOT discussed at home!

Anonymous said...

Ok I'm weighing in here a little prematurely, because I have a 1-year-old and am in complete and total denial that he will ever smell like anything other than daisies in spring time. That being said, this made me think of my mother and her story. Her mother did not tell her anything. at all. period. and my mom had the moment when her period first started of standing in the bathroom at school and screaming because she thought she was bleeding to death and dying. Awful. Her mother came to the school and yelled at her for being so embarrassing. Can you imagine? Fast forward 30 some years and you can bet that my mom kept me in the know about some of the facts of life about being a lady-type. I'm airing my mama's laundry here only to say that while I think product placement has pretty much jumped the shark in the last decade, I can't help but think that there are plenty of parents out there that aren't taking the time to talk to their kids and feel relieved that this will at least prevent any girls from being in the dark when that quiet but life-changing moment does come. If this is the only way that schools can afford to get good info into the hands of the next generation, I say a-ok.

Michele said...

800 years ago when I was in 6th grade they sent home those letters to the parents. It was the first time ever in our school district that "sex education" was going to be taught. Many parent were offended. How dare the school get involved with what should be taught at home. My mom was thrilled. It meant that she didn't have to do it. No advertising was part of the agenda.

I started talking to my boys about this very early.

Jenni: Have you checked with Nelson yet? JR totally abdicated this to me. Curse his Irish Catholic upbringing.

Lisa Lilienthal said...

re: the deodorant - annie's fourth grade teacher (she's in sixth now) brought up deodorant at least once a week, particularly in the warmer weather ... I think some kids just stink early!

Veronica said...

I remember getting that talk in the 4th grade--I don't remember any marketing ploys, though. I do, however, remember thinking "Okay, this is going to happen any day now." And then I got my period when I was 15.

Keely said...

I think everything in schools is sponsored now. Everything everywhere, really, but big corps like P&G have to get their claws in early.

I'm not going to be able to defer the 'talk' to Paul. The word 'penis' still makes him giggle.

Elizabeth said...

Out here in crazy California, the talk is given in fifth grade in the public schools. But I've heard of condom parties in some of the more PC private schools in middle school! Yikes.

It sounds like you handled the whole thing beautifully and I really appreciate the whole musing on advertising.

Becky said...

Amelia, now THAT is horrifying. Poor thing! I have heard similar tales from other ladies in that generation.

The more y'all say, the more I think 4th grade is not too early. I mean, better to have the info and not need it yet than to need it and not have it.

The funny thing is, like your kids Elle, Laura is way up on gender theory 101. We have discussed all that to the nth, maybe just a matter of my own interests. But I seem to have neglected some of the plumbing details.

Hootie, come visit us and Matt will fill you in on these things. Ask him about the special hug.

Kelly said...

I definitely don't think 4th grade is too early to be exposed to the wonders of deodorant. Just hang out in a portable classroom after recess in August...then you'll understand ;)

PS- I remember having the "talk" at school in 5th grade. We did not get goody bags.

My Kids' Mom said...

There is a better program/curriculum and it is called OWL: Our Whole Lives. My kids are taking it at K/1 and again at grade 4/5 through our Unitarian church. The program is taught other places too and maybe available for home use. Very even handed, nothing to embarrass anyone, but comprehensive.

"Its not the Stork" and other books by Robbie Harris are awesome to get the ball rolling if they don't ask questions on their own.

A Day That is Dessert said...

You handled it all beautifully, as I would have expected.

Dancer said...

I remember it was VERY HARD to talk with my mother about it all and didn't want it to be a taboo subject with my own children. I therefore never made a secret out of menstruation for either my boys or girls. I also overheard some pretty strange interpretations of things sexual as picked up on the playground. Like you, I figured we could talk as they asked but the subject never seemed to come up. What I ended up doing was buying 2 little books: "the period book" for girls, and "whats going on down there" for boys. As the years went by these little books would dissapear into the one or other childs room for a while. So the information was there, I was trying to be available but I think the kids felt most comfortable informing themselves. I don't think their school gave puberty education or at least not until about 6th grade.

Fran said...

My daughter saw the video in fourth grade. Parents were invited to view the movie prior to the kids, so I went in and checked it out. I was the ONLY parent there. It was age appropriate and very goofy. The Always products were displayed in a lot of the shots. No goody bags though. After my nine year old saw it I asked how it went. And she said "good". That was our big discussion. She wasn't ready to talk about it and I respected that. Fast forward to now, almost a year later, and I've brought it up a few times. She listens. But still doesn't ask too many questions. She has that American Girl book about the body, and she reads it a lot.
My husband wants me to have the "talk" with her about sex and what boys think about etc. Now THAT is a horrifying thought. She still believes in Santa Claus, for heaven's sake!!

Suburban Correspondent said...

It was fourth grade when I was growing up. And yes, the schools will grab at a decent freebie - they don't have enough money for music and arts, why pay for tampon info if you don't have to?

Dave said...

I think corporate sponsored curriculum is kinda creepy. At some point there will be school lessons on climate change brought to us by Exxon Mobil (if there aren't already). But I think you're right about their need to instill brand loyalty early, especially when it involves a kid's first exposure to a new subject.

As always, I think you handled the discussion masterfully. And I like your policy of not leading the witness.

Juliet Grossman said...

OMG I was just on all of the "feminine product" manufacturer sites looking for some kind of kit or samples I could order. Apparently they no longer do the kit with booklet & samples that moms can order to go over on their own with daughters. Kotex let me order my choice of free sample (only 1 of the 4 selections was still available.) My daughter is in 4th grade too. A lot of issues going on about now -- coming up on bras, shaving legs, periods.....probably 5th grade is going to be the year where this stuff starts in earnest but of course with periods you want to be on the ball in case your particular girl starts early so she's not freaked out.

In our district it's a 5th grade talk. The teacher who always did it left the school last year so who knows what they'll do. I really hate that the school is involved at all. In my opinion this is strictly the parents' domain.

Juliet Grossman said...

As Fran mentioned, the American Girl book is good. (Care & Keeping of You.) There is a companion journal with Q & A and spaces for the girl to write, too. There's another good one: The Feelings Book. (That one has a companion journal too.) now that I think of it, all of the AG books are very well done.

I love the more detailed sex ed book It's So Amazing. The same author has books for various age levels and It's So Amazing would probably be my pick for 4th graders.

Casey said...

Oh wow, I'm uncomfortable even thinking about having to have these discussions down the road. I think they are targeting kids earlier because of hormone enhanced products causing earlier puberty, yes. I borrowed "Are You There, God?" from a friend and my mom NEVER talked to me about this stuff. I was so scared to go to her when I finally did get my period (on the first day of high school, thank you very much). You are an awesome mom for tackling these subjects as they come up, instead of avoiding them.

Jen said...

Er, Cait took a class in 5th grade, however, she knew about stuff long before then. She is also a Judy Blume fan and I bought her the American Girl book about such issues and told her she could read at her leisure and question me later if appropriate.

She's now 12 and has two questions since, so not too bad in my book!

Elizabeth said...

I will never forget the movie I saw in 4th grade about said topic. It included a pancake in the shape of a uterus.

gretchen said...

Whoa Nellie! That's right around the corner, isn't it. Geez. I think you handled it very well indeed.

I'll never forget my 4th grade health film on sex. They took all the girls to the cafetorium, and Nurse McGill showed it to us. Don't remember a goody bag though.

I also clearly remember my 4th grade history teacher, Mrs. Heard, having a little talk with us one day because she felt that some of us were getting a little ripe, and perhaps it was time for some deodorant. So...maybe the Secret thing wasn't such a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

Our school uses a non-branded film, and there aren't goody bags. So, it's possible. (It's actually a Disney-produced video from the 90's.) Apparently, they're needed in 4th grade...the teacher was telling us that she usually has at least one girl start her period in 4th grade, and that the room starts to stink to high heaven by the middle of the year for need of deodorant. Lovely...