Putting kids and caution in perspectiveBeverly Godfrey column: Because I work in a newsroom, it’s often my job to read things I’d rather not. And because I’m a parent, it’s often my job to shield my kids from things I’ve read.
By: Beverly Godfrey, Duluth News Tribune
Because I work in a newsroom, it’s often my job to read things I’d rather not. And because I’m a parent, it’s often my job to shield my kids from things I’ve read.
Any time there’s a big tragedy in the news, advice comes quick on its heels about how to explain it to your kids. I understand the need, but those stories make me mad, too. There are too many people not shielding their children. People didn’t used to know about every horrible thing happening in the world. But I suppose it’s the new normal we need to adapt to. Kids these days have no memory of getting on an airplane without taking off their shoes.
There was a lot of this kind of advice after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last year. And, of course, if your kid asks about it, you need to be prepared. My reply is always, “Something really sad happened in the news,
but it was far away from here, and you don’t need to worry about it.”
But sometimes, it seems important to share sad news. Sometimes, it seems like there’s a lesson to be learned, harsh as it is, and I’m not afraid of the occasional cautionary tale.
Last week, 9-year-old Marshawn Kenneth Farr-Robinson lost his feet in St. Paul when he tried to jump on a moving railroad car, according to news accounts. It’s terrible to see such permanent and serious consequences from a child’s mistake. Most people can probably remember doing something equally reckless as children, but for most of us, dumb luck was on our side.
Instead of shielding my kids from a story like this, I will make a point to read it to them. There’s no blaming the victim, but I hope it will help them understand their mom isn’t a nervous Nellie; I am not making this stuff up. When young teenagers are pulled into a rip current off Park Point, I talk about that. When grieving parents describe the effects of synthetic drugs, I’ll talk about that, too.
I tell them about teens who die swimming in dangerous rivers. Of hypothermia victims who went hiking in the woods unprepared. People without life jackets, not wearing seat belts, no helmet.
But if there’s a terrorist bombing, school shooting, bridge collapse, chemical attack, plane crash or the like, unless it happened right outside our front door, my kids do not need to know. They don’t understand a “one in a million” chance; all they’ll hear is, “This could happen to me.”
This is what I’ve always believed, and in writing this, I did read some of those “what to tell your kids” stories that I find so grating. Their advice is similar: Don’t start explaining stuff until they ask, at about age 8 or 9. Reassure them it isn’t happening to them now and won’t in the future. Ask them how they feel; don’t assume or tell them how to feel.
I don’t want them heading back to school thinking they’re somehow responsible to stop school shootings. The generic instructions “Listen to your teacher” should suffice.
Obey the lifeguard. Don’t trespass. Follow the rules. Respect the police. Those are easy lessons to learn. Leave the constant, world-scale devastation kind of stuff to us sorry adults.
Beverly Godfrey is a copy editor for the News Tribune. You can reach her at email@example.com.