Explaining Tragedy: Talking to Your Kids About Current Events

This is, truthfully, a topic I have been avoiding writing about. I’ve been asked about it many times and I just haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. The events of the past month haven’t really changed my mind but have certainly proved that it has to be done.

It would seem that the world has gone insane and adults aren’t the only ones paying attention. Recent events have had a ripple effect for those all over the world and with the internet and a 24/7 news cycle, there’s really no escaping it. In my own backyard we witnessed the tragic murder of singer Christina Gimmie following a concert. Within almost 24 hours we were hearing news of a mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub.

Since then we’ve seen violence across the country and all around the world.

As we are bombarded with the news of these events, it can be a lot to take. For me personally, it has been overwhelming.

In today’s connected age, kids are receiving news and information about these events more than ever.  This information shows up in the form of snapchat filters, news clips, instagram posts, facebook updates. While the internet and social media has many upsides, I’ve seen a lot of down in the recent weeks.

The biggest issue has been the sharing of insider footage, looking at this events as they unfold through shared video that may not always been the most appropriate for young eyes. With a large number of kids with personal devices like cell phones and laptops, parents can’t always be around as they are receiving news of tragic events.

Bigger still is the slew of misinformation that can pop up following these events.

It’s a lot for adults to handle and process, more so for younger minds.

Regardless of age, upsetting news can affect kids emotionally. Feelings of anxiety, worry, anger, fear and guilt are all common and many times these feelings linger long after the story has left the news cycle.

So what can you do as a parent? As always, I have gathered the best information I can from life experience and, of course, a little bit of internet research. As I continue to sort through my own feelings and reactions in this time, I can’t even begin to imagine having to explain to a child what is going on.

For Elementary (Ages 10 an Younger)

Turn it Off: I’m not suggesting an ostrich approach but I highly recommend keeping the images of these events away from young eyes. My biggest pet peeve with social media and even the news is the tendency to broadcast the worst. After the Boston Marathon bombings and Pulse, we saw the same footage of victims over and over again, bloody, crying, scared. These are images no one should have to witness, especially young eyes.

Be Together and Stress Safety: If the topics is brought up, enforce the idea of safety with your kids. Explain to them the protective measures that are in place to help keep them safe. Be sure to listen to them and take care not to belittle their fears. Provide distraction and physical comfort (nothing beat a tight hug and a good Disney movie. This goes for everyone).

For Middle Schoolers (Age 11-13)

Be Available for Conversations: I have often said that this group is my favorite to teach because I’m reaching them at a time that they are discovering their own morals and beliefs. It’s important to keep that thought in mind when it comes to events like what we have seen recently.  You may need to take stock in your own beliefs in times of events such as the Pulse Shooting or the shootings in Michigan and Dallas.

Trust that what you say in these conversations will stick with your kids for their rest of their lives. It’s important to explain the basics of prejudice, civil and religious strife and bias towards others. Be very careful of broad generalizations.  Make sure you have the facts straight and don’t be afraid to admit if you’re sure about something. Kids are going to take your words to heart.

Ask them what they know and have a constructive conversation from there. There’s a good chance they have pulled information from the web or from friends and there may be a need to correct information before something wrong is ingrained in them as fact.

Talk About the News: It’s an unfortunate truth that our news outlets are more interested in competing for viewership than they are simply providing the information. As a result many can be found to rush information before the facts are straight, or go straight to broadcasting images far too grisly to be decent. Make your kids aware of this and take care to limit their exposure. Same for when it comes to the internet. Make sure you are aware of what they are looking at while online when it comes to coverage of these events.

For High Schoolers (Ages 14+)

Check In Early And Often: With a device in the hands of almost every teen, there’s a good chance that they have learned of these events independent of you (in some cases, even before you). Be sure to check in with them and talk about what is going on. This can help you gain a sense of what they have already absorbed. Take their insights to heart and share your own (taking care not to dismiss their budding beliefs and sense of morality).

Encourage Them To Express Themselves: Everyone deals with tragedy differently and is affects us all whether we are directly involved or not. Most everyone knows Orlando. It’s the theme park capital of the world and home to the Most Magical Place on Earth. Hearing of events such as the shooting at Pulse or the death of Lane Graves at the Grand Floridian Resort at Disney is sure to trigger something. They are aware of what is going on in the world and more so of the unfortunate truth that their own lives could be affected by violence.

Listen openly to their concerns and address them as best you can without dismissing them entirely. If you disagree with something in the news or media, explain that to your teens and help them discover appropriate mediums through which to receive information.

For Everyone

Not All Kids Are the Same: Remember that no one kid is the same. Your elementary student may be more advanced and in tune with the world. I’ve created the best guide I can but I rely on your own knowledge of your child on how to tackle these issues.

Keep Positive: Oh boy. Okay. Here’s the tough one and I’ll be completely honest that I’m struggling here as well. On June 12 I lost three friends at Pulse Nightclub. The pain in my heart from not just that loss but an attack on my home, on my community, has been a burden. From there the news cycle has been non-stop with more and more stories of violence and pain. The American flag has spent more time at half-mast this past month than fully raised. It’s a lot.

As I sit and reflect on all of this. As I reflect on what I saw and experience in Boston following the marathon, I can see hope. I can see how we come together to be better and stronger.

There is a quote from Fred Rogers that has been tossed around a lot, especially here in Orlando, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

Make sure that your kids are seeing the stories of the helpers. Those lining up to give blood. Those on the front lines doing what they can. Those making donations of clothing, food, money and time to help those in need.

More importantly, show them. Be kind to those around. Teach them that way of the world.

Be kind to one another.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

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