There are some things you see on the news and even if you’re horrified, they seem so far away — so you don’t worry too much and you don’t tell your kids. But when bad things happen in your town, your instinct is to protect your family. Suddenly, the fear of something happening to your loved ones becomes very real. A few weeks ago, a Rabbi was shot and killed close to where we live and I debated whether or not I should tell my kids. When I had just made up my mind to tell only my oldest son, he came in to the kitchen and blurted out that there had been a murder … in front of his terrified younger sister. Apparently, he had found out from his friends on Instagram.
This moment made me realize that no matter how much we try to shelter our kids, it’s impossible to do. Not only that, but it might not be the best course of action anyway. You see, children find out anyway — no matter how much we try to protect them. By a certain age they can read, access social media, and talk with other children. There’s a very real chance they might learn about a tragedy before you even had the chance to process it, like what happened to me.
It’s natural for parents to want to protect their kids from the sad, ugly parts of life. In a way, we think that if we pretend injustice, prejudice, and violence don’t exist, perhaps they will go away by the time they need to face them. But this is just an illusion and we aren’t doing our children any favors when we avoid talking about the harsher realities of the world.
I’m not saying our children need to know everything that is going on. The challenge lies in knowing how much to share; we want them to know enough so it’s not as though they’re living in a bubble, but not so much as to make them afraid. The younger they are, I think the less details you should share. However, as children grow and enter the pre-teen and teen years, you aren’t doing them any favors if you are not discussing the important issues. Knowledge is power and the way that I see it, I would rather my kids learn about thorny subjects from me, so I can answer their questions and give them reassurance when needed.
The fact is that even if we want to see the positives in the world and focus on the good, there are too many things that make me sick to my stomach. Ferguson was a reminder of just how present racism still is and how the color of your skin still matters in our country. Anti-Semitism is on the rise and is already affecting my children. Beheadings have been shown on the news. Bullying has reached such a height, it has driven kids to kill themselves for years. Not talking about these things doesn’t make them go away.
As parents, we can give context to our kids, explain things, reassure them or teach them what to do and what to say. We might not be able to be with them every single time they see the ugly and the bad, but hopefully our words will stay with them, comfort them, and empower them.
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