In the background of the video of my twins’ first birthday, the television is on and you can see the coverage of the Twin Towers burning.
The twins, and Maggie who was not quite 3, were oblivious to the events on the screen at the time. The TV was on non-stop but they had no idea what was going on. I remember thinking how lucky I was that they were so young. I didn’t have to explain it to them. At the same time, I wondered what kind of world my kids were going to grow up in.
As it turns out, they have been no strangers to tragic news. They have been exposed to unthinkable events such as the Sandy Hook school shootings in 2012 and the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Closer to home, they’ve heard about shootings at a mall we frequent (Columbia, 2014) and major riots not 5 miles from our home (Baltimore, 2015).
I answered a few questions at the time of these events, but the kids never seemed overly concerned or disturbed. Maggie says she remembers watching TV and seeing one of the alleged perpetrators of the marathon bombing forcefully apprehended. It freaked her out a bit, but she didn’t worry about it — not even when she took part in the Baltimore marathon a few months later. And although the Baltimore riots were close to home, to the kids, it was worlds away.
We have never shielded our kids from tragic events, but we try not to fixate on them. We may turn on the TV briefly for an update, but we don’t keep it on all the time — especially if our youngest is around. I remember turning off the coverage of the Baltimore riots when he came into the room last spring so he wouldn’t see how bad it was.
It’s hard talking about heavy topics with your kids. We recently posted a story that offers some great tips on talking to kids about tough topics. The best one, I think, is to follow your children’s lead. Let their questions guide your discussion. Answer questions but don’t go into too much detail. Most times, they don’t want to know everything, least of all the gory details.
This winter, my nephew was in a bad accident. The morning after it happened, I told the kids about it. They didn’t have many questions so I didn’t tell them much. They wanted to know if he would be OK, and that was one question I couldn’t answer. I didn’t know.
My kids seem to understand that bad things happen and there are bad people out there who sometimes do unthinkable things. They seem to get that life is not always fair. It’s important not to live life fearing the worst and luckily, they don’t. We have tried to impress on them that it’s up to them to make smart choices, but because of what they have seen, they know they can’t control everything.
FranklyStein is a blog by Chesapeake Family Magazine editor Betsy Stein, who lives in Catonsville with her husband, Chris, and four children, Maggie, 17, Lilly, 15, Adam, 15, and Jonah, 11.