Talking To My Teens About the Colorado Massacre

Even though I begin many of my posts here with “I have something to say about…” I know that this one is far more difficult to succinctly sum up because it is a difficult victim-shaming, NRA-blaming, mental-health-issue tragedy that happened last night at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. This is huge, and it’s happened before.

Instinctively, I thought of the movie I watched a few months ago, Beautiful Boy, in which the parents dealing with a shooting tragedy are connected to the killer, not just a victim of a massacre. It was heart-wrenching, but that’s what it was supposed to do. It made me ache for and pray for the mother of the killer last night as well as, of course, all of the victims. Those poor people who just wanted to enjoy something they loved.

Mason, my eldest son, went to see Batman: The Dark Knight Rises last night at the midnight showing. Like many kids his age (and many younger) he bought his ticket a month ago in anticipation of this and has been an avid fan for years, watching all of the Batman movies, even the ones that came out before he was born. He stayed at his father’s house last night so when I woke up to the news my first thought was that I wanted to call him to make sure he made it home alright. That’s a mother’s prerogative when tragedy strikes. She will wake you up from your slumber just to make sure you’re okay.

We spoke this afternoon, too, because I know my son, and I know he will need to process this, too. My other son, Morgan, didn’t go to the movie with Mason but he nevertheless knows about the tragedy. I don’t make it a habit to go through a full-on speech about the nasty things of this world with my children, but they’re old enough to read the news and expose themselves to what the world has to offer. Days like this, it’s not so great.

Even though Mason told me he’s fine, I know otherwise. He enjoyed himself, got home at his dad’s house at 4 a.m., and came over to see me this afternoon. Since he’s off work today, he is spending time doing exactly what I thought he’d do: perseverate on the shooting at the theatre.

Naturally, I don’t want to make matters worse, but there are a few rules I try to follow when it comes to dealing with tragedies with my children. When I was home on maternity leave with Morgan 17 years ago the Oklahoma bombings happened, and I didn’t talk about it with my other children either. I felt that 9 and 3 was simply too young. But now that my children are older, we tackle the issues as necessary according to their interest and inquiry into the news.

1. I take a generic approach and ask a lot of questions. Did you hear about Aurora, Colorado? or Have you heard about something in the news that’s particularly upsetting to you lately? It gives them the chance to let me know what is bothering them and what they know about the news before going headlong into a far too detailed conversation.

2. I ask about what they know and their reactions to it. My children are sensitive to painful issues and have these amazing hearts. That has to be taken into account when discussing tragedies with them. Whether it’s a devastating hurricane or deadly tornadoes or a shooting, they determine how much they can take in and I don’t force it otherwise. Sometimes they are more in tune than others like the Joplin, Missouri tornadoes last year probably because it’s just the next state over from us. Proximity can make the news more intense for them.

3. I know when to back off of the story and change the subject. When we have done all the wondering aloud (Why would someone do this? What was wrong with them to kill people like that? How can we ever be safe?) I am quick to wrap up our discussions. Sometimes, they ask to pray or just tell me they are going to pray on their own for the victims. Other times, they are in need of finding the beauty in the world to combat the evil they know is there.

It’s not a perfect way to parent, but it works for me and honors their feelings about being an adult in this wicked world. Yet, I want them to grieve if they need to and work at being a change agent in the world. Sometimes, it seems so futile. With the killings in Aurora, Colorado so fresh in our minds today it’s been difficult. We truly are praying for the victims and their families and everyone affected by this.

For help with discussing this with younger children please check out “Discussing Hate and Violence with Your Children” by the National PTA.

Read more from Kelly at her personal blog, Mocha Momma

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