My daughter is a kindergartener. I came in to her classroom to help out this Tuesday after the Newtown killings. I imagined our very young group of kids would be sheltered from this horrible news as I, perhaps naively, imagined they would be sheltered from all horrible news. I was surprised to see that this was not the case.
Some of the kids were totally out of control. One kid said he was going to draw his gingerbread man getting shot. “Why?” I asked. “Because I saw on the news about those kids who got killed,” he said. Another kid (who told me on another day that his father was killed by gun violence) sat in the corner and cried the whole morning. Another kid broke pencils and kicked chairs. I assume these other two kids were also exposed to news about the killings.
Perhaps they have older siblings and the news was impossible to contain, or perhaps their parents are not in the habit of protecting their children from the harsh adult world, or perhaps, in the case of the child who lost his father to gun violence, the harsh adult world has come to meet them head on and now they are left to pick up the pieces. Whatever the case may be, it is our job as parents and adults who care for children to hold them and protect them and help them work out their pain. But what if the parents are the ones inflicting the pain?
How can they comprehend? How can they keep going and feel safe? How can they possibly thrive when they know things they can’t possibly deal with?
See, the thing is, I can’t even bring myself to read about this story. I know the basic facts but have only read one article about it when it first came out and have watched no TV news. I do this to protect myself, because even though I am not a child I don’t want this fear indelibly imprinted upon my psyche like so many other things that pass into my frame of conciousness without my permission. I don’t feel the need to know every fact about the story or the shooter. I’d like to leave all that aside.
Terrible things happen every day in this world and we here in the U.S. are very sheltered from most of them. We do not live in a war torn country with drones dropping bombs on our children. We (speaking as middle and upper middle class citizens) have it very lucky. So when something like this hits our community it makes us feel very vulnerable.
So although I know we have it lucky, it is still scary to be reminded that everything you hold dear in your life could be taken away from you at the drop of a dime. This fact is disquieting to us all. Especially children. They should be protected from things that will harm them. Isn’t that our job as parents: to protect them from harm? And have we not yet learned as a society that mental harm is just as real as physical harm?
I think the Newtown shooter is a plain example of that if we care to see it. If we don’t care for our children, if we don’t care for our society, if we don’t protect ourselves and each other from harm, then we end up with an uncaring group of individuals, which, frankly, is not the world I want to live in. Would-be shooters are bred in that type of society — and terrorists, too.
So how do we best care for our children? We are all going to choose to do that differently. We will make different choices, hopefully with their best interests at heart, but the most importantly thing is that we do it consciously – we make choices. Instead of having the news on in front of our kids and letting them be exposed to horrific acts of violence unknowingly, we can make decisions to carefully bring up issues that we want our kids to be aware of in ways that they can deal with the information. We can choose to keep certain information from our kids until we think they are ready. And we can hope that their world allows them to keep their innocence for as long as possible.