Scaring My Kid Straight

One thing that happens at school is that, beyond reading and math, kids let to learn about all the terrible things that they shouldn’t do, like smoke, drink, take drugs, or play with matches.

Fire safety was one of the first big messages for the kids.

And yes: fire safety is good. But somewhere along the line, they scared the crap out of M. My otherwise fearless 11-year-old is not a fan of open flames. If we have a candle burning on a table, she asks if she can blow it out. When roasting marshmallows, she asks for the longest possible stick. Look for her at birthday celebrations and she’s the one leaning as far away from the birthday cake as she can without making herself conspicuous. Every year when she manages to blow out the candles in front of her friends I feel a little surge of pride because I know that it requires some serious force of will.

Last year, M ended up sobbing over an anti-smoking video that the kids watched at school.

This year there was another anti-smoking video. M arrived home from school, slammed the door behind her, and launched into an indignant tirade. “We saw another one of those ‘don’t smoke’ movies again. It. Was. Appalling.” J and I settled in for the full report.

There were graphic details: apparently they showed lungs in an autopsy, complete with someone reaching in to pull the ribs apart to look into the chest cavity. “It was disgusting. Seriously. You saw this muscle and stuff, and it looked just exactly like a piece of meat that we might buy at the store and eat.”

“So,” I ventured, “Did it turn you off from eating meat?” M and J are both unabashed meat enthusiasts.

“No way!” M protested. “Eating meat isn’t being a cannibal!”

“Yeah,” J put in. “Cannibal or vegetarian: either way is horrifying!”

Okay, let’s stop right there: is my 9-year-old truly as horrified by the notion of forsaking meat as she would be by going all Donner Party? And if so, what have I done wrong in my parenting? Should I make the family screen one of those slaughterhouse expose films? If I did, would Cute W ever forgive me? We’d probably have to go cold-turkey vegan. Except, of course, that we’d have to come up with a less turkey-offensive term for our abrupt vegan turn.

I decided to just leave the whole dietary issue alone and circle back to smoking. I asked M, “Do you think the movie had any impact on how you feel about smoking? Like, do you think that it made you any less likely to start smoking?”

“Mom. Mom.” I can tell that M can’t believe that I am this foolish. “Think about it, Mom,” she says. “To start smoking, I would have to light a match. And then I’d use the match to set fire to a tube of paper and put it really close to my face.”

Oh, yeah.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *