I admit to being so disturbed by an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “How to Talk to Your Children About the Protests,” (June 8, 2020) that I put the piece away for a day before finishing it. While I don’t disagree with all the advice per se (though I did disagree with quite a bit of it), there was one major theme that was missing.
One of a parent’s major jobs is to protect his or her children, allowing those children time and space to grow and mature. We do this physically by providing food and shelter. We do this psychologically by providing security and a peaceful home. We do this spiritually by providing a world that isn’t random and scattered, but one that has order and purpose. We also do this by presenting the world as a safe place.
To be fair, the article didn’t seem to aim the question of how to talk to your children at parents of a particular age group. Obviously, a four-year-old, a ten-year-old and a teenager need different approaches.
Before the Coronavirus and before George Floyd, articles abounded about how rates of anxiety and depression were soaring. In particular, teenagers (especially girls) seemed to be more insecure and less resilient. I think it safe to say that the past few months have the potential to exacerbate the problem. However, and this is so important, sheltering at home also provides the opportunity for parents to have more control over their children’s lives and counter the negativity that most schools and our society in general promote.
The “experts” quoted in this article missed that point entirely. Let me suggest what was lacking. If your children are young and they are not forced to deal with the unrest in this country face-to-face because it is taking place in the streets outside their windows: TURN OFF THE RADIO AND TV WHEN THEY ARE PRESENT (and don’t foolishly think that because they aren’t in the room they aren’t listening). At the moment, with schools and churches closed, you are your six-year-old’s interface with the world. He needs to learn that every human being is created in God’s image just as he needed to learn that six months ago. She needs to read about heroes who do great things, including fighting injustice, just as she did six months ago. He needs to know that he has infinite potential just as he needed to know six months ago. She needs to know that being a decent and moral person is a choice that she can make, just as she did six months ago. Our small children do not need to know that policemen can be murderers or that people can easily turn into mobs, randomly destroying the life-work of their neighbors. That is a burden for adults to shoulder, not children.
At the right time and in the right way, children need to be exposed to reality. Exposing them in the wrong way makes them fearful, nervous and less capable of becoming successful adults.
Do children need to be kept safe from pools and lakes? Yes. Should we teach them to be terrified of water so that they don’t go near it? No.
Do children need to be protected from bad people around them? Yes. Should we teach them that relatives and strangers want to harm them and that they should be afraid of all people? No.
Do children need to learn of the sins of their country? Yes. Should they be taught that these sins are universal, irrevocable and control their destinies? No.
In February 2017, I wrote a Musing called “Wanna Talk About Me.” Towards the end, I wrote the following words:
“We walk a fine line between educating our children about issues of the day and passing on our own convictions, and betraying our trust as their guardians. Even when real and immediate danger is present, thrusting our fears onto our children’s fragile shoulders is wrong.”
I still believe in those words.