I remember several years ago when I used to be the director of a local community church day camp for children in one of Toronto's priority neighbourhoods at that time. I had just come back in from doing groceries for that week and was accosted by a 4 year old girl we will call Tanisha. She ran up to me, and I will never forget her words, She said " Ms. Kim, Ms. Kim. come quick, the big kids are playing sex!."
Playing sex? what? I quickly began to panic, so many thoughts ran through my head. What? where? when? who? how do you even play sex? What on earth am I going to see when we turn the corner? Who is playing sex! the oldest child here is 12! What am I going to tell the pastor.
I take a deep breath and open the door.
The seven children in the room all quickly start shuffling around and acting very suspicious. "What's going on?" I asked. Dead silence. I then turned to sweet innocent little Tanisha, and I ask her to repeat what she told me at the front door. " I said the 10 to 12's are playing sex and its not fair, because they won't let us come in the room because they said we are too little" she said angrily. I cringed again as the words left her mouth and asked her to return to the gymnasium with the rest of the children.
The 10 to 12's quickly started trying to explain, but by this time I as livid. I separated them and called them into the office one by one. It became clear that they was some touching, and maybe even kissing, but not nudity, and no sex. Still, this was completely unacceptable behaviour. So next, I told each of them that in order for me to consider letting them stay in the camp program, they would need to each write me a one page essay. This essay should include what they were doing? what was wrong with what they were doing? What will they do differently in the future? and what do they think should be the consequence for the behaviour? Seemed simple enough, and just when they thought they were off the hook.... I added the clencher.
The essay must be signed by at least one of their parents or guardians.
I was quite impressed with myself for coming up with this method of addressing this issue. But one of the parents was not at all pleased. She felt it was unfair of me to ask the children to write this essay and that this would be humiliating for them. While I sympathized somewhat with her concern, I explained my perspective on the matter. Firstly, I was running a camp with 85 kids and I could not condone or turn a blind eye to behaviour I deemed inappropriate. Secondly, these children were at a very critical age and the humiliation and discomfort they might feel in their parents finding out what happened, is miniscule compared to the potential consequences of their inappropriate behaviour. Soon thereafter the two of us reminisced and laugh about our adolescent days. I then called in my group of seven for a final chat.
I explained to the girls that by exploiting themselves and their bodies, they put themselves at risk for gaining a reputation in high school as a slut or a whore or worse. Is that fair? of course not, but it's a clear and present reality so its important that young ladies be aware of how they carry themselves, the company they keep and the image the portray of themselves. Not to mention the health risks associated with become sexually active or even just "playing sex".
Next I addressed the boys. I focused on how quickly a seemingly fun, cool situation with a girl can go left. What if that little girl is "down" at first, but after the fact decides doesn't want a reputation or maybe she doesn't want to get in trouble by mom or dad, so instead she lies and said that she was forced to do things against her will? The odds are not in favour of the young, coloured boy in this situation. I then went on to ask them to consider what could potentially be at stake for them- they could lose their education, their freedom, their family and their future for what seems like an innocent game, so its key to always THINK before they act.
Now that I have 10 and 12 year old daughters of my own not to mention my AWESOME P.Y.T. team, I can't help but feel concerned for them. Young, impressionable, curious adolescents have a lot of new things to adjust and adapt too. In this age of touch and click, social media and cyber bullies it's so much easier to become a victim of people ignorance or mean spirited people or worse. I do not have all the answers nor am I trying to tell anyone how to live their life. However I am saying that knowledge is Power in every situation, as it patience. Know the risks and consequences associated with your behaviours and don't rush through life. If you aren't sure about something or someone ask more questions? Don't want to talk to your parents? well talk to your friends, or siblings, or school guidance counsellors. Always ask yourself, is this a safe choice and discern yourself accordingly. The choice is always yours and no ALWAYS means No, so don't be afraid to use your voice when necessary.