Friday, April 19, 2013

On Being News Interpreter to My Kids

I'm no news junkie, but this has been one of those weeks when it's almost impossible to pull oneself away from the news. Even now as I write this, I'm refreshing the New York Times web site every few minutes to find out if my Boston neighbors can let out their breath. I'm still holding mine.

And at the same time, it's been hard to listen to, watch, or read the news with my curious, observant kids present. "What happened?" I was asked this morning, as I was desperately trying to listen to Morning Edition to find out, myself, what happened in Boston overnight. Desperately, because of the apparent urgency--the way in which it was clear that the radio hosts didn't know themselves exactly what was happening--and also, because my kids kept interrupting me with their own questions. Bella asked me turn off the radio so I could explain to her the news that I had barely been able to hear or digest.

Kids think we know. Not only are we supposed to know what's happening, but we're supposed to filter the news to them in a sensitive way that makes them feel safe. The National Association of School Psychologists says to: 

  • 1) Be careful what little eyes see and ears hear. Children are less able to handle the intensive, detailed coverage of an event.
  • 2) Reassure children that they are safe. Remind them that trustworthy people are in charge and helping.
  • 3) Maintain a normal routine. Model calm and control.
  • 4) Stick to the facts. Don't stereotype people that might be associated with violence.
  • 5) Keep the lines of communication open. Be aware of children's emotional state.
It used to be I tried very hard not to let my kids know when bad things were happening in the news. Here's when I admit that this week, I mostly gave up.

 Last night, after the surveillance videos of the bombing suspects were released, I spent a few minutes scrutinizing the videos online, bewildered by the very unprecedented nature of such a manhunt. "Who are they?" Bella asked, before I could even get to the bottom of the article. And so began a conversation about suspects and manhunts and surveillance videos and many, many questions to the effect of, "but HOW did they know it was those two guys? Out of all the people who were there?"

 I wanted to say: "You'll understand better when you're old enough to watch Homeland, honey." It's when real life is full of the stuff of grown-up TV, that parents get tested. 

This was the week, too, when I had to explain to my daughters that the US Senate had failed to pass the gun control measures that are needed to change the culture of guns and increase safety in our nation. We as a family have written letters, started and signed petitions, and attended rallies to show our support for these measures. And I was left having to explain to my kids about the NRA, and about some Americans' love affair with weapons, and about the way political campaigns work. I also told them that there are a lot of people who care deeply about gun safety, including our president, and that hopefully change will yet come.

At the time of this writing there are 12 people confirmed dead, with at least 40 still missing after the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. Somehow, with all that's happened this week, I don't think my kids know about this terrible tragedy, yet. If and when they ask about it, I will tell them what I know, and how I feel: sick with sorrow.

Perhaps all we can ever do, as parents, is be ourselves. 

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