THIS BLOG POST IS WRITTEN WITH KATHY HIRSH-PASEK
We are horrified for our children. We are horrified about the world our children now inhabit. When protesters carrying torches appear on the nightly news chanting “Jews will not replace us,” “white lives matter,” and the Nazi slogan "blood and soil,” we are horrified for our kids. This is a time to ask what can be done to protect our children from watching people beat each other up, throw lit torches, and scream and curse in other’s faces. We cannot rely on our leaders to reassure our children (or us). Children see our leaders offering wimpy statements against racism and violence but do little concrete to prevent it. They are largely complacent.
Yet life is always cruel. The pet goldfish floats on his back one day and the turtle stays under water… forever. Cruella DeVil kidnaps 99 adorable Dalmatian puppies to turn them into fur coats. And the evil lion Scar in Lion King murders the good lion Mufasa. We help our children get through these ‘tragedies.’ They give us an opportunity to tell the occasional moral lesson and to explain the cycle of life. But when a child is frightened we can always revert to, as one of our parents did when we feared the roar of the MGM lion, “It’s only a movie.”
But we can’t say that when life itself is X-rated. When people that look like us are seen brutally fighting on television or when people are screaming as the crowd is being mowed down by a madman in a car. Many children will ask: Are they coming to our town?
How can we reassure our children? It depends on the ages of our children and on their level of sensitivity.
For kids 8 and under, parents should be their children’s censors. As surely as X-rated movies do not admit minors, and as bleeps are inserted when expletives are used on television, we should turn off the television so that these horrific images are not seared into our children’s brains. The news is X-rated these days and young children cannot understand the complexity of the issues they reveal. Just say ‘no’ and turn it off. No need to give our children the nightmares we are already having. Whatever we do, we must let our children know they are safe.
For kids older than about 7 or 8 who may have seen these X-rated scenes through a sibling or at a friend’s house, we should still minimize their exposure to these images. We should also tell our kids that the news always shows the exceptions – the worst of the worst – and that most people are kind and good. However, we should also be open to questions and talk with our children in a way they can understand. In fact, unless we do talk, the more sensitive among them will likely brood about what they have seen and replay the images in their mind’s eye.
This is our chance to reinforce their moral compass. Talk about how all men and women, regardless of the color of their skin, or where they come from, or how they pray, are created equal.
This is also our chance to let children see how they can be a little kinder every day by helping that woman who is struggling with her groceries as she puts them in the car, or by opening a door for the child in a wheelchair. Sure, there are bad people – like that bully in their school or the mean kid down the block. In fact, encourage them not to be a bystander but to speak up if that bully makes fun of another child.
Finally, we can also remind them that the good guys win. Cruella DeVil does not get her Dalmatian coats and Simba wins the kingdom. It takes some time and people are working to make that happen. But it WILL happen. The good people will win. [Are we consoling ourselves or them?]
It is imperative that we help our children navigate this unfamiliar reality. Our X-rated society has rocked many of us to our core. But the way we teach our children must come not from the media or society at large, but from our homes, from our actions, and from our words. Yes, the clouds are building and the storm is imminent if not already upon us. We can and must protect our children from what they are seeing and hearing right now and we must be their role models for becoming kind human beings. What will you do to stem the tide? Voldemort comes close to winning – but in the end, good people can ensure that he perishes.