War of the words: Talking with your child about the state of the world
Terror Alerts. Suicide bombers. Nuclear weapons. Military Death Toll. Saddam Hussein. Osama Bin Laden. War in Iraq. No matter where you turn, these words are bound to be lurking.
Whether on the front page of the paper, in the deep baritone of Tom Brokaw, on your monitor when you go online, or around the water cooler at work, the state of the world is front and center. And when you consider the current threats being made to our way of life and our, well...life in general, this is as it should be.
We are afraid, and as discomforting as the information may be, information empowers us and eases our fear of the unknown.
The same holds true for our children. And we need to be open to discussing the state of the world with them.
Our children?!? But I don't want to scare them, you say? They don't need to know about all this, you retort.
I have news for you. They know. They talk about it, even if you don't. The playground is a child's version of the office water cooler, and world events are at the "top of the monkey bars" as far as schoolyard banter goes.
Children as young as five are very aware of the increased stress in their parents' demeanor. They hear the evening news reports, they can make out the headlines on the newspaper.
Go up a few grades and those children are reading the front page and the pages that follow.
Wander into a teen chat room and you are as likely to find an international debate on world leaders, politics and war, as you are a mindless discourse on the latest fashions, CDs and reality TV shows.
Kids are talking, and one thing they keep saying is that the grown-ups in their lives are not.
Complaints I hear range from a six year old who practically begged me to explain why her Uncle was sent off to the Middle East, to a ten year old who exasperatingly told me how she had tried to talk to her parents about the war in Iraq and they just told her "it was nothing for her to worry about", and the fourteen year old who stated simply that she interprets her parents' silence to mean they "just don't care."
It would seem, as with the infamous "sex talk", many parents are falling into the "if-I-don't-acknowledge-it-to-my-child,-they-won't-know-about-it" camp.
And I understand...to a point.
Like any parent, my husband and I fight daily to preserve our children's innocence. Kids grow up all too soon, encouraged to do so by the industries of fashion, music, movies and television.
Innuendo, a word I could not even spell in high school, is now foisted upon, and understood by, kids still in grammar school. And while we make our attempts to shelter them from sexual lyrics, violent video games and crass reality TV, it is time we accept the fact that in one arena of their lives, information is power and ignorance is not bliss.
Many parents kept 9/11 away from their children - a feat at which I still marvel. Afraid of exposing the kids - regardless of age - to the horrors of man's inhumanity to man, they managed to insulate their children from the endless onslaught of media. When Elizabeth Smart and Danielle Van Damme disappeared from their beds, they refused to discuss the abductions, not wanting to risk nightmares, convinced they were doing the right thing.
But the best of intentions are seriously going awry.
When a serious event takes place, whether locally or on the world stage, even if you don't acknowledge it to your children, chances are they will find out.
And your silence is as frightening as it is confusing.
Children of all ages are remarkably insightful, and possessed of a compassion that belies their youth. They are also incredibly imaginative and the questions they allow to form in their minds are far more frightening than the factual information you could provide them.
Let's face it, the world around us is not the world in which we envisioned our children would be raised. And these discussions? Unpalatable at best. Sure, we pictured talking about wars, inhumanity, human suffering - when they studied these things in History class. But our children are living history class right now.
We can no longer afford to insulate, isolate or shelter the world's children from the fact that there are very bad people who do very bad things. We teach them math, we teach them spelling, we teach them manners and hygiene. We must now be willing to teach them reality.
Talk about current events at dinner. Sit around the fireplace and let them ask their questions. Allow them to watch the news with you. And to the best of your ability, give them answers. Empower them. They can handle it.
And one last thing: There will be times when you may have to admit that you just "don't know". That's ok, too. When the words won't come or the answers are out of reach, pull your child close.
Sometimes a simple hug can provide the security that a million answers never will.