GRAPEVINE, Texas — I passed through the living room of our house as some TV news people were talking about how to approach your kids about sexual harassment in the news. This came in the wake of talking to your kids about the Sutherland Springs church massacre last year, talking to your kids about devastating hurricanes, talking to your kids about Donald Trump, talking to your kids about police brutality and so on.
In some cases, counselors were standing by to help your kids (even college kids) deal with things ranging from an election that made college professors sad to murderous evil acts across the country. Although I believe it is the right and responsibility of parents to prepare your kids to live in a chaotic and fallen world, and those outside your family sometimes can offer good advice, perhaps we talk to our younger kids about too much.
I remember over the course of the past 35 years — those years when I’ve been most interested in parental behavior — hearing of second- and third-graders who “spontaneously” wrote letters to only conservative presidents expressing worry about nuclear proliferation or climate change. Third-graders have really changed since I was one.
In reality I suspect that either teachers or parents “talked to their children about” the things that had stirred up the adults in their own echo chambers. Of course the kids will worry about things adults find important enough to stress. But I don’t think this is done to the children’s benefit.
In the mid-1960s, when the U.S. was becoming more involved in the Vietnam War, the pastor of my church was on a mission trip somewhere in Southeast Asia. My mom went to the globe and showed me where he was and where the increased fighting was. I understood that it was serious and that Mom was worried about him. I also understood that she wasn’t worried about her own safety or mine. So I went back to what I was doing. I was a kid.
Without really strategizing, it’s how Tammi and I handled 9/11 with our older kids. It was on the news and we talked about it as details unfolded. They understood that it was serious, perhaps even that many things would change, but they were not afraid because we didn’t give them any reason to think we were personally and imminently threatened.
So there’s talking and there’s talking.
My grandchildren are 8 months old to 8 years old. Their parents are pretty watchful of the kids’ screen time. That means my 8-year old granddaughter is not subjected to a constant stream of lurid news TV or hysterical talk radio. Our grown kids are alert and aware citizens but they are committed to protecting their own children from pointless worry. Why should minor children care about Roy Moore or Charlie Rose or Al Franken or Matt Lauer or John Conyers? Why should some distant adult give them the idea that it matters to them here and now? The slow motion train wreck of celebrity reputations exhausts me but my grandkids can understand safety and danger without me grinding every detail into their minds.
Most parents have enough sense to know what’s appropriate to intentionally tell their children at various stages of life. I wonder sometimes if this common sense is applied when it comes to what kids hear from the 24-hour news cycle or radio diatribes. This is a good argument against young children — I mean under 16 but fill in your own number — having a smartphone. Sensible parents must extend that extraordinary care to protect their kids from those who get paid to war against views they espouse. Without getting personal, as you try to raise happy and secure children, I’d consider them to be adversaries. Keep your adversaries away from your kids’ eyes and ears by any means necessary.
You may need to turn down your own stress. Children look to adults, particularly parents, to help them decide how to respond to events. Maybe you’ve seen a child bump his head and then look at you to decide if he should cry. If you go into full comfort EMT mode, he’ll provide the siren. If you act unruffled by the minor bump, he may rub his head and continue the mission. That’s a good reason not to let events distant from your family control your general attitude.
In the face of every alarming thing, you know that our God is in heaven, not surprised or confounded by what’s happening. That’s a testimony you can wear on your face, in the tone of your voice and in the content of your dialogue.
We need the wisdom to know what our children need to know. Especially when they are still dependent, and usually regardless of the question, children need to know Mom and Dad are dependable and depending on God. Talk to your children about that.