Again the bad news, again the horrific headlines and images of carnage, and again the conversation among my friends, neighborhood and school community: What do we tell our kids? This week it’s Vegas.
My close group of friends with children my son’s age debated how to handle it. These kids are 6, 7 years old. That’s old enough to know that bad things can happen in the world, and old enough to begin to question their own safety.
Should we bring it up first, in case they’ve heard something and are afraid to ask? Should we let them continue on in blissful oblivion until they bring something up?
I’m not a therapist. I’m hardly a veteran parent: my oldest is 7. I’m not big on parenting books or dogma; I almost always go on instinct and emotion. And my instinct tells me not to bring it up with my son unless he asks. Here’s my thinking on it:
- Childhood is precious and innocent. And we should preserve that innocence for as long as possible. Right now the kid has night terrors about monsters and Ninja turtles. Why introduce legitimate worry into his life?
- I could tell him that he’s safe, but that’s a lie. I really can’t say that, these days. And kids his age think in black and white. They’re all about certainty. Foods are gross or amazing; there are “good guys” and “bad guys.” This isn’t time for nuance.
- This story has no ending. Awful to say it. But as we’ve seen, time and again, incidents like Vegas aren’t an aberration. They’re part of the fabric of low-grade fear that’s become woven into our day-to-day lives. I know this. He doesn’t need to know this. He doesn’t need to carry that sinking stone of dread around in the pit of his stomach. Not yet.
But my head isn’t in the sand, either. This is the world we live in. My kid isn’t going to grow up in a bubble. So here’s how I’m going to frame it, if he does ask: In this world, hope is the new truth. Faith is the new truth. I’m pretty sure he’ll be safe, because the odds are in his favor. I have faith in this. I can hope for this. So I’ll search for truths I can honestly impart, if and when he asks:
- I’ll do everything I can to keep him safe. I feel secure saying this. It’s 100 percent true.
- The chances of him getting hurt are very, very low. Statistically, he’s not going to be an unlucky victim. At least we have numbers on our side.
- There are lots of good people in this world working to make sure that the world is a safe place where people don’t get hurt. I wholeheartedly believe this.
- The harder the world gets, the colder and scarier, the greater our obligation to step up and help. This is the biggest thing I want him to know: Sadness and despair isn’t a cliff-dive. It’s a gravity pull. The lower the world sinks, the responsibility is on us, as decent human beings and as citizens of a place far bigger than our own fears or souls, to lift everyone else up. That’s our communal obligation. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That’s simple science, and it’s simple decency: When someone else is scared, we can comfort them. When someone else is sad, we can make them happy. When the world is cold, we can make it warm.
The world doesn’t have many certainties. But there are still a few truths. And when my son is ready, these are the ones I’m going to share with him. I can’t keep him safe from guns or violence. But I can arm him with humanity.
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