In a single decision, I became the mean mom.
And I didn’t care.
At eight years old, our daughter devoured Dork Diaries. She read and re-read them, making every new book her favorite accessory. Each friend was doing the same. To look at the book, it seemed innocent enough – fun drawings, font replicating an artsy, creative world. The title lending to the idea that probably the main character was picked on and wrote in her diary to come to terms to be stronger than her middle school bullies.
As the year went on, I started to notice my generally sweet daughter turn snide. Of course, some of this is normal pre-teen changes and then there was our world. The kid who just two years later would dedicate her tenth birthday to projects to better the lives of others turned to her little brother and said, “Why don’t you have anyone over? Don’t you have any friends?”
Stab in the heart.
This was not the child I knew but yet, was not entirely shocked it came out of her mouth. She had become a bit of a thing I call “too cool for school.” Her grandparents seemed strangers, her little brother a nuisance and her parents, totally out of touch. Many called it “tween years.” I called it unacceptable.
I looked her straight in the eye and said, “tell me the person, the tv show, the book, the whatever it is that has made you think it is okay to act this way or you do nothing until you tell me. No sports. No friends. No Girl Scouts. No books. No tv. Nothing.”
She paused and said nothing for quite a while and finally said, “It’s a book.”
Of course, I didn’t believe her. How could a book have this capability to change a person? The next day, I google searched “Dork Diaries bad influence” and found parent reviews stating they had found the same. So doing what I should have done from the start, I sat down and read it.
What I found was the main character far from what I wanted my child to become. Written as a victim, she was petty, shallow, and downright condescending. What should have been just a normal conversation would become a blown up drama-fest. She would obsess over everything. It was no wonder my child’s own diary has become quite nasty. This sole character was her influence – her guide to how she should be.
Over the course of the next few months, my kid returned to herself. About six months after the “ban,” she picked up a copy of the book and said, “wow – I didn’t realize how mean she was.” I asked her why she acted like her if she didn’t like her and her reply was simple. “Everyone else was reading it, so I thought that was how I had to be to be liked.”
I was talking with a friend who divulged she was having trouble with her daughter’s attitude. I asked her if by chance she had been reading Dork Diaries and she replied, “Yeah. She can’t put it down. She’s begging me to buy the new one.” What shocked me was after telling her about the “don’t you have friends” comment, she said that her daughter said almost verbatim the same thing to her little brother. And her parents were so embarrassing. And everything was a big deal. She had become “too cool for school.”
Fast forward a few years and our daughter is reading Harry Potter and talking about Hermione and how she wants to be like her. She is watching youtube videos on Luna Lovegood and proclaiming, “I like her voice. She seems so kind.” She is proud to have “tested” into Ravenclaw because it is the house known for intelligence. She has devoured a book series from Usborne called “The Phoenix Files” where the kids are off to save the world. Auggie & Me (the follow up to Wonder) was ingested in a day. These characters make you want to be better. They push you to grow and consider. They are the kind you would want your kid to emulate.
Our son is now about the age where his version of Dork Diaries (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) will become the “popular book.” Having already read them, cringed through audio-book and begrudgingly watched the movie, once again, I realize the way the characters talk are anything but how I would want my own children to act. So with this, I will become the mean mom once again and ban another set of books from our house. Luckily with him, we have already found alternatives with “how-to’s” on Minecraft, anything involving the Periodic table, books on the human body and gemstones and the occasional Shark School.
And just like with our daughter, I will unapologetically wear the title proudly.