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Talking to Children About Violent News Stories

Talking to Children About Violent News Stories

By Chris Jordan

Hi this is [—] Elementary school. I am calling to inform you that your child threatened to bring a gun to school today.

What?

Your child said he was going to bring a gun to school.

I heard you, I am just shocked. That doesn’t sound like something he would say. And certainly not something he would do.

We don’t even own any real guns. I am confused.  This is going in his permanent file.  My heart is heavy.

*****

Shortly after September 11, 2001, I was at a government office with this same son. He was almost 1 yr old. There was security in place, where once there had been none. I had to put my son down on the floor, stand him up on his chubby, unsteady legs so he could be frisked and have the wand scanned over his body.

Step back, ma’am. We have to check you separately.

I can still vividly recall him standing there, several feet away from me. His legs wide apart for balance, wearing a tiny plaid pea coat and soft soled “sneakers.” He held his bottle up to his mouth with one hand. He was a baby. Could this really be happening?

Tears had welled up in my eyes while I watched.

No need to be upset, ma’am. Your baby is not being harmed in any way.

That’s just it, he was a baby.  The tears were because this was the world my son was going to grow up in. A world where this would be the new normal. A world of distrust. A world where everyone and everything was suspect.

A world where a seven year old child would say to his father who is heading to the airport on a business trip, Well, you mean IF you come home.

*****
I have been asked several times over the past week how I was talking to my young children about the shootings in Arizona. And my answer is the same as it is with any random violent act which occurs, I’m not. I never turn on the news when my children are home. I don’t think that that they need those words and images seared into their brains.

Do you remember the shock you felt over Columbine? The OKC bombing? The utter disbelief?

I want to protect my children enough that they feel that shock when they are old enough to process it. I believe that the world is mostly filled with good people. I want my children to feel that way also.

I don’t want their perceptions skewed by sensationalistic news and wild speculation. I don’t want them to be desensitized to violence.  I don’t want them to feel that just living their life is a dangerous endeavor.

****

I had a call from the principal today…

I know, Mom. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I said it.

What exactly happened?

Through his tears the story came out. He had been sitting with his friends at lunch and they were all talking about guns, and slingshots, and shooting, and hunting, and blowing stuff up — the way little boys are prone to do. I don’t think there exists a mother of sons who has not at least once lamented the fact that the boy will turn the most innocuous item into a pretend gun.

My son told his friends how he had been allowed to go to the shooting range with a close family friend. And then he said the fateful words, I wish I could bring the gun to school to show you.

As soon as he said it a little girl sitting next to him got up and ran hysterically to the teacher. My son sat there confused about why what he said was so bad. This was why I had protected him from this type of news. I didn’t want him to be the fearful child who became hysterical at the mere mention of a gun. I didn’t want him to have to even think about these sort of things in elementary school.

I had to tell him about school shootings that had happened. I had to explain to him why everyone had to make a big deal about what he had said. I saw the innocence drain out of his face. Why, he kept asking. Why would someone shoot people? Children?

I had to tell him that I didn’t know why. I don’t know why. These questions can’t be answered in terms simple enough for a child to understand.   I am not even sure I understand.

It has been months and he still brings it up.

Do you think someone will ever come to my school with a gun?

No.

But you don’t know for sure, Mom.

I think that it is highly unlikely that would ever happen.

But you don’t know that, Mom.

This is not a worry for you to carry, my son, there are adults to keep you safe.

I see him think about this for a few minutes. Then a shadow of realization crosses his face.

But weren’t there adults at those other schools?

I kiss the forehead of my anxious, sensitive son and grab hold of his chin.

I promise you that you are safe. Please believe me.

As he goes off to play, content for now with that answer, I pray that I am right.

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she wrote about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, they...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she wrote about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is a teen now.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

 

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Jen
Guest

I was crying as I read this.  I can’t imagine the horror of having your baby patted down and scanned.  I get sick just thinking about it.  And the whole boys and guns thing?  We weren’t going to let our son play with guns, but gave up when he started biting his toast into gun shapes.  After that it was gun-shaped sticks, LEGO/Tinkertoy guns…you get the picture.  I can totally hear him making a similar comment, having no idea that he shouldn’t say such a thing. I absolutely agree that our children shouldn’t be exposed to the violence in the… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

you have described my feelings exactly, I am not sure when to share with them and how much, in 7th grade my daughter came home so upset because I had not told her about 9/11. She said the kids were all talking about it on the anniversary and she didn’t know. She asked me to share news like that so I said I would try but I really don’t want to.

liz
Guest
liz

totally moving post…so sad. I can’t imagine being a child in school these days. I have an 8-month old son and I don’t know how I’ll handle things with him. But your way sounds right.

Liz
Guest

This was very powerful and moving. Thanks for sharing so eloquently. I had trouble imagining the security scenario with my baby. That made me want to cry.

Mary Kay
Guest
Mary Kay

We are expats currently living in China. I think one of the hardest adjustments when we move back home will be explaining to my 6-year-old why she can’t go to the bathroom by herself at the mall or to my 14-year-old why she can’t take a taxi by herself at 10pm. Because China is a communist country and so controlled, they have gotten used to the lack of serious crime here. As much as they want to move back home, they will not be happy about needing that extra level of caution and awareness. We have certainly learned a lot… Read more »

suzie
Guest

We recently had an “event” at the high school where my daughter is a freshman.  When we first heard that something had happened – stripped of details and so very vague – I had several moments of fear and thoughts of Columbine whirring through my head.  When the details eventually came out, it was hard to figure out if there was ever a real threat (seems very unlikely), or whether we were just dealing with the slightly inappropriate sense of humor of young teenage boys. My girls were very small when 9/11 happened, but they both remember it, and the… Read more »

Colleen
Guest
Colleen

This is such a powerful piece of writing on a heart-breaking topic. Thank you.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I am so confused. You said you want to protect your children from violence, but you let him go to the gun range to shoot a real gun. As a child? This just seems like such a contradiction to me. Guns are made to do what thing: injure or kill. It just seems like a giant paradox to, on one hand shelter your children from the subject of violence, because they aren’t old enough to process it, but a boy is old enough to process shooting a gun at a gun range? I am so confused. I think part of… Read more »

KellyW
Guest

I shielded my kids from the news when they were younger. Much harder to do with a 14 yr old in the house.

Hate that moment when the innocence is shattered. Children should not be burdened with the insanity of adults.

Did talk to my oldest about the goodness in Arizona – those that were brave, those who did not capitulate, those that took action and protected others, those that helped. This he needs to know about.

barb
Guest
barb

I nearly tackled my daughter in Church Sunday to “protect” her, after a loud noise over the speakers. I hadnt realized how upsetting the Tucson shooting’s really were to me. My daughter is 19, and remembers 9/11, this is the world she has always lived in. that is what is so sad. I was the one startled and scared, adn shocked. she was sad and upset by it, but not really shocked. I agree Chris, keep their innocence as long as you can. this world can be so mean to our babies. My daughter giggled when i told her why… Read more »

Katie
Guest
Katie

My youngest daughter was not yet born when 9/11 happened. My husband’s birthday just happens to be September 11th. The other day, while talking to grandma, she said “Dad doesn’t like his birthday”. I can assume grandma asked “Why?”. My darling baby girl says, totally off the wall, like it was a big deal, but not the end of the world,”something bad happened… some buildings fell down and a lot of people died”. Some people can’t understand how I haven’t explained it in full detail for her. I don’t understand why I should. Why should she be scared that every… Read more »

Elizabeth
Guest
Elizabeth

Lovely piece. I don’t do the same with my kids – we watch the news and talk about it, and my 4th grader has to write a weekly current events report for school and they all discuss them. My oldest kids are adults, and I think they have turned out to be sensitive and thoughtful about the violence in the world, not desensitized. I guess I chose not to shelter my kids because I was worried they would make mistakes and endanger themselves if they didn’t understand the consequences.

Kristi
Guest
Kristi

We were living on Fort Hood last year during the shootings. My children were locked down in their school for almost 9 hours as it was less than 50 yards from the building that the massacre occured in. My children were all born after 9/11, and my husband has just started his fifth deployment (2 to Iraq and 3 in Afghanistan), so we had to deal with this issue much sooner than I would have liked. They have had friends and classmates that have lost a parent in combat, and my husband is EOD (he diffuses the IED’s) but we… Read more »

Damaris
Guest

My husband is a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz. We live on campus at family student housing. It’s heaven. Except that someone gratified on the wall that on January 18th (tomorrow) they are going to shoot a couple people and then take their own life at the Social Sciences building. Scary! As I put my children to bed I kept thinking about the scary things people say, not to mention the scary things people do. I am generally a very relaxed person but after last week and after this incident here on campus I have to say I am scared.

Amy
Guest
Amy

I think some things have to be discussed whether we want to or not especially when I know my children have lock-down drills at school. The teacher locks the door, covers the door window and they all move into a remote corner of the room. Most of the door windows are already covered probably for this reason. The children are asked to be very quiet. I’d rather they know why they do these things and that it came from me. Sometimes they come home talking about news that I had no intention of talking to them about. Recently I found… Read more »

Sarah
Guest

This post made me really sad because of the reality that this is the world we are raising children in.  It further tugged at my heart because we live in Tucson, very very close to where these shootings occurred.  We have been very careful to try not to discuss any of it in front of our two older children (ages 5 and 3) for the same reasons you mentioned.  However, the funerals of two of the deceased were held in the church across the street from our house and with the media circus that ensued some questions from our children… Read more »

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