Every so often it might fall to you to tell a story of the big wicked world to a child: a story that might involve "adult themes", in the nomenclature of the Film Rating board. Barring out and out explicit sex, it's quite easy to adapt almost any story for childrens' consumption.

First, don't burden the story with needless information: figure out what the theme of the story is and simplify accordingly, rather than trying to explain difficult issues. For instance, if the story concerns the lover of a gay friend of yours, decide whether the story is about them being lovers (in which case you can talk about it happening to a "girlfriend") or about them as two men in which they can be best friends. This may seem dishonest, in this age when the Little Ones should grow up with positive images of homosexuality and the like, but believe me, it's often a lot better to handle it this way than to have to stumble through a detailed explanation of how this is just as sacred a bond as Barbie and Ken, but different. (One pedantic friend of mine shoehorned a thorough discussion of homosexuality-- because of the portrayal of King Herod--into a synopsis of Jesus Christ Superstar she was relating to a stage-struck young niece...I doubt if the girl involved stayed awake.) If the kid comes away with the idea that your friend is, at heart, a good person, it's far more valuable than any categorical judgment about sexual orientation. If it's a story about drugs, decide whether the theme of the story is Having a Good Time or Being Sick or Hiding Something or Doing Something Stupid...you get the idea. If the kid comes away with the idea that you ought to be careful, even when things are going fine, it's far more valuable than any categorical judgment of recreational substances. Second, know your child. Children can handle various levels of information at various ages, as illustrated by the following story about my mom's friend Walter.

Among his minor claims to fame (other than being a sometime sculptor, and making a mean martini) was that he was once a jazz musician (guitar and bass), backing such greats as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, among others. Naturally, he owned an extensive library of recordings by these fellows, and as a doting mentor, he often told stories about them to help pique my interest in what I might find "difficult" music. Naturally, he wanted me to see them in a good light, so when I was a little girl, he would relate tales of his good friend, Fun Loving Charlie, always with a beer in his hand, some chicken wings in his belly, a saucy lady in view, music in his heart, and mischief on his mind. When I was about thirteen, Charlie Parker developed into quite the drinker, who "might have smoked some pot", though of course Walter would never do such a thing, (of course) being a law-abiding citizen...after all, he was an advertising executive! When I was sixteen, Mr. Parker started smoking pot full-time, "but I never saw him do anything else, though he might have. He gave me some once". (Mr. Armstrong also developed a pot habit, as well.) Somehow, it never occurred to me to ask questions: after all, this was great stuff! What did Charlie do next? Did Dizzy help him?

And so it continued: by my early twenties, Charlie Parker was "getting sick, and he had problems hitting the vein with the dropper...And then Red Rodney, who also liked fun..."

It may not have been scrupulously honest in the letter of the law, but I don't know which version I've liked better, and yes, I do love jazz.

I have two kids.

I don't lie to them. When my son was in utero nine years ago, I decided that I would not.

Not at all. Not about Santa Claus. Not about sex or violence. Not about my past. Not about my fears and emotions.

I'm glad.

I've never needed to doctor my tales of depravity. My vow of honesty has kept my relationship with my kids clean in a way that I have trouble describing. Kids can handle this honesty. Kids need this honesty.

The way that a child gains the skills of an adult is through practice. The more the better. My kids can think about sexuality, homosexuality, deviant sexuality, violence -- good and bad, recreational drug use, philosophy, values, religion, and everything. The more they think about this stuff, the more they will have worked out when it comes time for them to make big decisions in their lives. My mother is a musicologist and a scholar on Richard Wagner. I had no trouble dealing with the incredible power of his great works while also reflecting on his ugly personality.

The reality is that all people do things that we might classify as good and bad. Kids should know that early on.

I'm thirty-two and my son is eight. He's having some of the same problems with the rigidity imposed by school that I did. I was a part time hellraiser in response to the way that I got along with the adult controlled institutions in my life. I wasted a lot of my time doing stupid stuff.

My son could end up in the same boat making the same dumb mistakes.

One of the ways that I see myself helping him to avoid some mistakes is through candid discussion of my own exploits, both the good and the bad, and what I was thinking and trying. I had sex when I shouldn't have. I victimized people who didn't deserve it. I was suspended and then expelled from school in the seventh and eighth grades for various discipline problems. I made many of the classical mistakes of the teenage years. And some of it was good.

My son loves my stories. He knows as much about sex as he wants to. He knows that sometimes people have sex with members of their same sex, and how to do it, and that there's nothing wrong with it as long as everyone enjoys. He knows that I think that sometimes beating someone is a good idea -- but not usually. He knows that rules can be followed or ignored and that just because a rule is inane doesn't mean he won't be punished for his disobedience.

He can take it. They all can!

Teleny writes, "don't burden the story with needless information." Sure -- that's a fine approach to any telling, but it is also very different than misleading the listener. It needn't be different for juvenile audiences than for adult friends.

Teleny presents a false dichotomy with "...believe me, it's often a lot better to handle it this way than to have to stumble through a detailed explanation...." Lying to your kids and "stumbling through a detailed explanation" are not the only options. This alludes to the phenomenon of a well meaning adult going into overwhelming detail in order to assure that the education of the child is not neglected. I find it is easy to simply supply the information for which the child asks. When my son asked, "how do you have sex?" I didn't go into foreplay and oral sex, sensual massage and latex lingerie. I just said "you put your penis in your partner's vagina and rub it in and out a bunch of times. It feels really good to both people, but takes some practice. It's best if you usually wear a latex condom to prevent pregnancy and infection." He asked a couple more questions about condoms and we moved on to another topic. But that was when he was five.

He asks for more detail now. My suggestion is to just let the audience (of any age) determine how much depth you provide. Coming up with an elaborate system of how and when to lie is needlessly complex when you can just serve up the truth in the portions that they want.

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