Talking To A 13-Year-Old About Orlando

As I cried, my 13-year-old daughter slept peacefully in her room. Once again, I found myself faced with the question: How do I talk to my daughter about yet another mass shooting?
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Mother embracing and soothes depressed teen daughter by problems
Mother embracing and soothes depressed teen daughter by problems

Sunday morning as I made my way to the kitchen for coffee, my husband stopped and kissed me on the forehead and wished me a good morning. The television was on, but I was still groggy and didn't pay attention to the headline. I poured coffee and sat on the couch to watch the early report that 20 people had been shot and killed inside a nightclub in Orlando.

"I didn't want this to be the first thing you woke up to," my husband said. We sat watching as the news continued to unfold, the number of victims more than doubling, the number of injured rising.

I'm just another adult who has grown accustomed to reports of mass shootings in the United States, and yet my husband felt the need to protect me from the news. My initial reaction wasn't to feel angry or afraid or even sad. My initial reaction was to feel numb. Only when the story shifted to a seemingly endless line of volunteers standing in line to donate blood was I able to cry.

As I cried, my 13-year-old daughter slept peacefully in her room. Once again, I found myself faced with the question:

How do I talk to my daughter about yet another mass shooting?

When our children are very little, we're able to shield them from the ugly things in the world. We cover their faces during the scary parts of a movie, cover their ears to protect them from words we consider inappropriate for young ears. We censor our conversations, and try not to fight in front of our kids. Our natural instinct as parents is to protect our children from harm and from the exposure to things that are too unbearable to discuss. We work hard to keep our children innocent as long as we can.

By the time our children have access to social media, our ability to protect them is gone. Even if we wait to give our kids internet access on their phones or computers, their peers know what is happening. The discussions are happening with or without us.

First and foremost, I don't want to have to have a conversation with my 13-year-old about Orlando. I am angry and sad and completely overwhelmed. I don't want to have to discuss something so incomprehensible and tragic, but I don't have a choice. A 13-year-old today is faced with the grim reality that mass shootings happen all the time. I can tell my daughter that we will protect her, but I can't tell her with 100% certainty that she is safe.

Yesterday, I turned off the television in a weak attempt to shield my daughter from the news, and I waited for a time to have the discussion, yet again. I chose to bring it up in the car on the way to the pool. As I drove, I explained what I could: a disturbed, hate-filled person entered a LGBTQ club where people were enjoying a Saturday night with friends during Pride. This person had an extremely powerful gun, and he began shooting. It was the largest mass shooting in our country's history. There were many heroes who came together to prevent the loss of even more lives. We would pray for the families and friends of the victims.

Now, let's go to a public pool crammed with families and try to be normal. Let's show the bad guys we're not afraid. Let's flip the switch from talking about the mass casualty story of the moment and go have some fun.

Of course, we all have varying opinions about what do to from here, but when did it become normal to have a conversation like this?

I do not have all of the answers and will never pretend that I do. However, as a mother, I want there to be changes in our gun laws, and I want it yesterday. Did Sandy Hook teach us nothing? Why do we "need" assault rifles?

I do not expect that a ban on assault rifles will stop every tragedy from happening in the future, but I certainly expect that by taking action and making it harder for people to purchase guns much more powerful than one needs to go hunting for sport, we will be moving in the right direction. As long as I am forced to have continuous conversations with a 13 year-old-girl about mass shootings, I will sign petitions, call my elected officials, and try to set the example that love conquers hate. I will be accused of politicizing guns at a time of tragedy. But you know what? It is political. Changes in our gun laws are at the hands of our politicians. But this is also very personal. It impacts us all. It needs to stop.

I will continue to hug my daughter a little tighter, and pray that in her lifetime, we see a change. Let us consider that we have the power to impact the future so that if our children have children, conversations about mass shootings will only be a dark part of their history, and a thing of the past.