By Sarah Maraniss Vander Schaaff
A twitter follower of the On Parenting blog asked: What happens when your kids are in school & have a lack of control (over) what & when they are told about tragedies?
Several years ago, when I first started teaching, I had a student discuss how he learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center, where his father worked and where he would die. He was sitting in class and his uncle came running into the room and grabbed him. And he took him home.
I’ve often thought about how this boy, who’d grown up to become a grounded and thoughtful teen, would have felt had a well-meaning teacher or administrator turned on the television or made an announcement.
So when the question is raised “what happens when your kids are in school and have a lack of control over what and when they are told about tragedies,” one wants a simple answer but is instead led to more questions: does the tragedy directly affect the kids’ safety in that moment; does it affect family members; does it tap into some other fear or anxiety only a parent knows; and is the urgency of the news more important than its presentation?
Some will say: toughen up. If the worst a kid deals with is hearing about the troubles or tragedies in other places and to other people why belabor this subject? Or say that it’s pointless to discuss, because we can’t control what other kids hear at home, or see on their cell phones, and bring into school discussions. I’m not only talking about world events here, but things that hit closer: the family involved in a fatal car accident; the classmate diagnosed with cancer; the friend who committed suicide.
Age matters, of course, and so does the nature of the event.
But two things seem clear: parents and schools need to agree that this is a subject worth looking at before the next horror happens. And, when reasonable, if a school community or class does discuss or watch tragic events, parents need to hear about it from the school before they ask their kids, “How was your day?”
I don’t think we can make assumptions that our expectations are always the same. And if we parents are accused of wanting to control too many aspects of our kids’ lives, it has a lot to do with wondering how to address moments like the one I had the day after the killings in Newtown, when my four year old woke up and said, “I don’t want to be shot.”
Where, I wondered did she hear that? And, where, I wondered, would I begin?
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