Violence and Terrorism: An Open Line of Communication Between Parents and Kids

Violence and Terrorism: An Open Line of Communication Between Parents and Kids

My dad was a realist when I was a kid. Since I was eight years old, he told me everything about growing up in the neighborhood of East Harlem, New York. He told me how gang violence led to his decisions to drop out of school and what happened to his friends who turned to drugs all while driving through the ruins of his old neighborhood and eating pizza and Italian ice. I was a child of the 80s and while my dad and I didn’t always get along and I have done my share of stupid things as a teenager, I value and treasure my relationship with my dad because he was honest with me. I attribute his honesty about the dark side of drugs to my ability to maintain awareness throughout those years and never touch them.

Fast forward to 2015. My husband and I have a 10 year-old son. I am by no means perfect but I take my job as a parent pretty seriously. I am a steward to this young man and I want to be the best steward I can be. Like all parents today, still have the ongoing battle of discussing drugs, sex and gang violence with our children. Unlike 34 years ago (and I am showing my age), we now have added terrorism to the mix of the evils of this world. Here are a few questions my son has asked as of late:

Why would a few men crash a jet into a building? Did children lose their mothers and fathers? Why would an individual come into a school and shoot innocent teachers and students? What is abortion? Why would a mom want to get rid of a baby who can grow up into an adult and be something great? Who is ISIS? Why do they behead people? Why would a terrorist attack a Christmas party?

There are a few advice columns out there that discuss how to explain terrorism to a child. This from Dr. Manny Alvarez:

I told him to think of a rose, and how one end of a rose is a collection of beautifully colored petals and a warm, loving smell, while the other end is a prickly stem full of thorns intended to cause pain, and holds no beauty. Then I explain that terrorism is when people lose their beauty, as if the rose was cut in half, and are left with only the prickly, thorny soul with the intent to cause pain. I told him that because these people have lost their inner beauty, they begin to hurt people without reason, without cause. It is not that they are envious, or want to steal anything; they are just left with the thorns inside that want to inflict pain onto others.

I told him, and I’ll tell you, that most people are not just a soul full of thorns, and that true beauty still exists all around us, but in today’s society, we must fight to protect what we have left. I know that many critics have mocked the act of prayer in the aftermath of these horrific events, but I told my son to continue to pray. And I told him that when he prays, to ask God to create more beautiful flowers on this earth, so that we can bring the true beauty of God back to light.

This from Ellen Hendriksen, PhD, Savvy Psychologist:

1. (With older kids), start the conversation by asking what they’ve heard.
2. When you hear fears, normalize their feelings.
3. Look for the helpers.
4. Highlight distance.
5. Possibility versus probability.
6. Remind them that most people are good.

I understand a psychologist’s job is to approach concerns from a clinical point of view but “normalizing feelings” and reminding kids that “most people are good” does not seem to cut it for me. There is beauty in this world but, there is a whole heck of a lot of ugly. And if we’re telling our kids “look how far away we are from this event that just happened” or “chances of a passenger jet flying into a skyscraper again are slim to none” when we don’t believe this ourselves, we are LYING to our kids and sheltering them. Both lying and sheltering our children has led to the whiny, scared-of-their-shadows delicate little snowflakes who get offended by every thing and every one who are running around on our college campuses today. Lying and sheltering does not give our kids the ability of distinguishing what is okay to get upset about (terrorism) and what is an absolutely ridiculous reason to be upset (pick a trigger, any trigger). And, if I may speak with liberty, Bible devotions and prayer are great but our kids still need to know the reality they live in and the context from which to do these devos-otherwise, we’re doing the same thing. Lying and sheltering blurs our children’s vision and discernment. While we can provide safe refuge and shelter to our children while they are young, they need to know the ugly realities of the world we live in to, as Dr. Alvarez states, see the beauty. They need to know that ugly can happen at any time and any place so that they can use their smarts and keep their guard up. They need us to be honest with them about right and wrong and they need to see us faithful, standing up for the truth and being willing to fight for it so that they are better equipped in their adult futures to do the same.

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