The violence that has reared its ugly head around the world has me worried for our children. It has left me wondering how we will send our children out into the world. How will they cope? We never know when terror will strike—domestic or foreign. ISIS appears out of nowhere and wreaks havoc in every corner of the world. And over the summer we saw terror in our own streets. Mothers of black children, especially boys, are afraid of what will happened to them when they leave home. They are having conversations about how to act when and if approached by a police officer. Families of police officers are worried that daddy or mommy won’t come home because of violence waged against them. We have seen people—many of whom have mental health issues—open fire at schools, churches, movie theaters and more places than I can recall.
We can’t escape any of it. Unless you live on the moon or in a household where there are no phones, computers or televisions you are exposed—hit over the head with it, really. So what do we do? As my daughter Grace reminded me, we can’t stop living our lives. We can’t deny ourselves opportunities to travel and enjoy festivals and even use public transportation. But it is a very scary world out there and every day we are sending our children out of the house not knowing what the day may bring.
I asked my friend and psychiatrist, Dr. Mahmood Jahromi, what parents can do. He says trying to hide it from them is not only virtually impossible, but also not the best idea. “Open and honest€communication, and guidance, is front and center in this. Parents are the world in their children’s eyes. Their words, actions and subconscious reactions to the events are modeled. They get imitated in the computer code of a child’s psyche. It impacts their perceptions, actions and reactions,” he says.
According to my friend, children 10 and younger are concrete thinkers. They tend to focus on facts in the here and now, physical objects and literal definitions. So you can see how video of the aftermath of a shooting or bombing would sit with them. Dr. Jahromi says these young kids need more clear education about a situation, along with reassurance and support. “Any method to help them be an active participant in their own safety—from decreasing exposure to the news€to helping them€in€engaging in sports and other activities are ways to deflect their attention,” he says.
That’s about all we can do, I guess. Perhaps the family makes a pledge to talk about a certain event that seems bothersome and at the same time agrees to turn off the television. Perhaps find a book or movie in the library that offers a historical perspective to what is happening. We live in the backyard of so many great monuments that speak to our history—the Lincoln Monument, the National September 11th Memorial & Museum at the Smithsonian, the National WWII Memorial, and the Vietnam War Memorial Wall are all places to take young children for some perspective on life’s major bumps, hurdles and triumphs. It’s a chance to explain why they happened, the change that came out them and how they speak to events of the day. One of my favorite trips to Washington, D.C., was to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. It was lovely to see families from all walks of life stand and read some of Dr. King’s words etched on the wall, and hear the parents talk to their children about what they mean. This kind of engagement, I believe, can offer hope and perspective. When you know where you came from you can see a better path to where you are going.
Not to leave out the older kids, of course. Dr. Jahroomi says teenagers have more abstract thinking. “It’s better to utilize verbal group discussions,” he says. And for those of us with college-aged kids, he says hammer it into their heads that when on campus€use the buddy system—watching out for one another is a good method of self-defense.
I have had these discussions with my Grace who is headed out west to college. At this writing she has not left. I have a few more weeks to break her of the habit of walking around and texting and to start paying attention.
That’s my two cents for now. Next month, I will be back to tell you how I survived sending my last child off to college.