In the face of another mass shooting (this time in California), and #metoo hashtags and reports of sexual harassment and assault at alarming rates, I’m trying to figure out how to raise my children with enough information that their friends aren’t their primary source of data (or fake news) but not so much as to burst their joy or make it impossible for them to sleep at night.
Most parents seem to share a terror for the future of their children that we wish, truly wish, we saw more lawmakers lose sleep over. How much information is too much? Is reality really all that important when you’re 9 or 10? How do I talk about race, climate change, guns, drugs, respecting women’s bodies, inclusion and poverty in ways that facilitate hope but don’t exacerbate helplessness?
Google “tips for talking to your kids about Las Vegas (Sandy Hook, Orlando, etc)” and your tip sheet will be tied up in a neat little bow. The universal message is to give information in small, digestible doses, repeatedly, and reassure your children of their relative safety. Don’t lie, don’t embellish, and leave out the gory details.
Got it, but maybe not really.
As a parent, I want to share with you that I know your fear. I hold the worry for the future of my children as dear as you do. Expressing to my children the relative safety of their lives feels almost fake. I think of a scene out of Men in Black. Will Smith (J.) is chasing after and shooting at a violent “alien disguised as human” and destroying half a New York City block in the process. His partner (K) stops him and says “there’s always a death ray, an alien spaceship… ready to end life on this miserable little planet. The only way these people get on with their sorry little lives is that they do not know about it.”
Ignorance is bliss. To be prepared, informed, and active, it then seems, is to lose that bliss. I don’t want to burst your kids’ bubble or mine, but I do want my 10-year old to live to be older than Tamir Rice (12) or Trayvon Martin (17) and as such would be incredibly grateful if you talked about race. I want my daughter to stay out of the #metoo club, of which no one (trust me) wants to be a member, and so would appreciate it if you talked with your kids about healthy relationships, respecting boundaries and affirmative consent. I promise I’ll do the same.
As a social worker, I notice that folks gravitate towards hope when they know what they can do, and don’t just have a laundry list of what they can’t. A constructive approach would then be to talk to our kids about how we foster inclusion in our communities, spread kindness, and unite against hatred. You can lend a hand over the holidays and model how to treat our more vulnerable community members with compassion instead of judgment. Central to it all, remember that we are in this together.
Sharlene B. Kerelejza is executive director of Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis.