It was a Facebook post that caught my attention almost immediately. A poster in a local group was sharing a story about a young woman who was at her house for a sleepover with her daughter, and her shock when the young woman in question asked her if she intended to go see the movie "Fifty Shades of Grey". The poster was startled and apparently appalled that the young woman (a 14 year old) would ask such a question or even know something about such a movie, as clearly her own 14-year old knew nothing and would never ask such a question - and I was startled too, because the degree of naivete about what our kids are exposed to stunned me a bit.
Let me start out by saying that I am not a fan of "Fifty Shades of Grey". I tried to read the book, but as a professional writer I could only get a few pages in before tossing it into the trash - literally - as the writing was so reprehensibly bad that it offended me. It wasn't the content of the book that bothered me, at least not at that point, but the lack of writing skill and ability. It wasn't until the entire Jian Ghomeshi debacle that I thought more about the content of the book.
You see I have no issue with what consenting adults do in their bedroom (or kitchen or living room or whatever). The key word of course is consenting, and in order to consent to anything one must be informed. From what I now understand in "Fifty Shades of Grey" the characters are anything but informed when it comes to consent, and those who know far more of the world of BDSM tell me it portrays a very dark - and inaccurate - picture of that world. They tell me it is far closer to rape literature than erotica, far more like a story of sexual assault than a tale of sexual adventure - and this worried me deeply, as in a time when we have seen a tale like that of Jian Ghomeshi unfold it has become more important than ever that we not only understand what is going on around us but be talking to our kids about it.
Anybody who thinks a 14-year old girl in this country hasn't heard about "Fifty Shades of Grey" or had some curiosity about it is naive. Curiosity about sex is not only normal but expected in the young adult mind, particularly in a world that is, quite frankly, obsessed with sex. Not only are our TV advertisements filled with sex, so are our TV shows, our documentaries, our movies, our magazines, and, thanks to people like Ghomeshi, our news. Sex, in all its dimensions and facets, is part of our world, and every 14-year old (and those far younger) is exposed to it on a daily basis, whether we want to believe it or not, and whether we are comfortable with it or not. So, when a kid approaches us and asks us about "Fifty Shades of Grey" or Jian Ghomeshi or twerking what do we do?
Well, I will tell you what I do. I don't act startled or shocked, because I am not. That these topics are ones they are thinking about is not only normal but expected and, in fact, healthy, because it opens the door to discussion. When my daughter comes to me we talk about these topics at length (for instance we cover the lousy writing in "Fifty Shades", but also the chance that anyone who writes that badly probably doesn't know much about their subject matter, either, and that their expertise in the topic should be viewed with suspicion). We talk about consent, informed consent, and how twerking is a word we wish had never been invented. Our conversations are frank, open and honest, and there is not one subject or word that is taboo, off-limits or unsayable. Everything is on the table, open wide, cards laid flat - because the real danger isn't in our kids knowing about "Fifty Shades of Grey" - it's in them not knowing, not discussing, not exploring, not thinking and not questioning. I would rather my kid - and her friends, if need be - discuss BDSM with an adult like me who cares about their safety and well being instead of in an anonymous online chat room with someone likely to have a far darker agenda. I would rather my kid hear about Jian Ghomeshi from me than find herself in the clutches of someone like him some day and wondering how she could have been so very naive.
You see that's the real problem. As long as we are fifty shades of naive about our kids and what they face every day, as long as we think they aren't hearing about or thinking about sex and "Fifty Shades of Grey" and BDSM and pornography, we are putting them at risk of being naive, too. I want to raise a kid tough as nails, armed to the teeth with knowledge of the world, including, if required, an understanding of bad literature masquerading as erotica and how informed consent really works and what it means. Yep, she might be cynical, wise beyond her years and have knowledge that even some adults lack, but at least she will never, ever be or feel fifty shades of naive, and I am thankful for that, because the only times I landed in trouble in my young adult life was when I was too naive to know any better.
So if your kid is asking about "Fifty Shades of Grey", or any other matter relating to sex, put aside your discomfort and your own naivete. First listen, then ask questions, then talk, and develop the kind of relationship where they are coming to you for your thoughts, and not heading to the Internet. It might on occasion be uncomfortable, but know that by doing so you are raising a kid who will never be fifty shades of naive - and you just might learn something, too.