If you weren’t already aware, I’ve been tap dancing for most of my life, and have been teaching for about seven years. This past September, I started teaching a competition class for 5-8 year olds and a regular performance class for 9-11 year olds. I teach my older girls two mornings a week.
Now I know that girls this age can be a handful. That whole pre-teen, ‘tween phase is really awkward for most as they try to figure out who they are and what they want to be, but I’m really worried about these girls. This morning, just as we were getting ready to stretch, I caught a bit of a conversation that really disturbed me.
Keisha*: “I think I’ma get up with him on Saturday”
Meija*: “You mean do it with him?”
Keisha: “Yeah” (whispered something very low—couldn’t hear it) “I know Carmen and Da’Ron did it, and she said it didn’t hurt too bad”
Meija: “Oh my God. Well I don’t know. That’s such like a crazy thing to decide. And where will you do it? And what if he tells everyone? You’re gonna get called a hoe.”
Keisha: “Well you know he’s having a party or whatever on Saturday night so we’re gonna tell his mom that he’s going to my house after it and tell my pops that I’mma stay there like a sleepover. So could you act like you gonna stay there too?”
Meija: “ I dunno K. That’s real extra. I don’t like lying like that”
Keisha: “I know. But do it for me. And I know I need to get condoms. You think your brother will buy some for me if I give him the money?”
Meija: “We can talk later, ok?”
(*using their middle names*)
I managed to catch most of that exchange using the record feature on my phone, and I’m glad because I really didn’t want to believe what I was hearing. I know the girls didn’t think I was listening to them so they were really candid. Normally, I would have said something or sat them down and talked to them about the decisions that they’re making, but out of respect for their privacy (you know, since I was eavesdropping and all) I didn’t.
I guess unlike most people, I’m not shocked by what they were talking about. Both girls are 11, so yes I’m saddened that kids that young are being faced with decisions like that and their parents either don’t know or don’t really give too much of a damn. If they’re lucky, they might have a cool parent to help them navigate the waters of the physical manifestation of internal emotion and everything surrounding it. I’ll be talking about that in another post soon.
I could sit here and blame BET, MTV, rappers, or really most any other media outlet for turning our young people into mini reflections of our larger society and its afflictions–oversexualized, undersexed, grossly misinformed, and scared. But it goes a whole lot deeper than that. What they see on TV are two-dimensional images of what goes on in reality, but when they see their parents and the other adults in their lives shamelessly participating in questionable activities, the line between media fiction and flesh-and-blood reality becomes blurred. When a parent explains away all of their own deviant behavior but is insistent about telling their child not to do the same thing, the child ends up confused and more often than not will emulate the actions of that person.
Me lamenting the fact that these girls are still babies making grown-up decisions won’t change their situations. Even when they make the ‘right’ decisions, everyday they are still being made to choose. They’re growing up entirely too fast, and I’m worried that by the time they get to be adults, they’re going to be burned out. They will have had all kinds of “adult” experiences, so some may be feeling like there’s nothing left for them at age 30. And I worry that these issues will have to be dealt with at younger and younger ages, almost to the point where once you leave Kindergarten, you have to make grown-folks decisions. I doubt (well, I hope anyway) it doesn’t get that serious. But truth be told, in terms of what people are doing and the choices they have to make, it appears that 11 is the new 21. This is part of the why I’m afraid to have kids–too much for them to deal with too young.