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Parenting Through Tragedy and a 24 Hour News Cycle

Newton Connecticut school shooting news

This morning children went to school in Newtown Connecticut and were slain by a madman. Perhaps an evil man, perhaps both. Children were slain, adults were slain and the preliminary news isĀ horrific. It will actually get worse.

Something else will happen because the 24-hour news cycle needs to fill every gap. There will be debates about this, there will be stories about how to talk to your children in the wake of a tragedy. There will be debates about gun control and body armor. Surely it will devolve into a political bit of mudslinging that everyone will find distasteful and then the nation will forget. Newtown Connecticut will remember but the rest of us will move into the holiday season and shop with aplomb.

During all of this tumult, people will get on TV and tell you how to talk to your four-year-old about death. They’ll have advice on how your eight-year-old deals with tragedy, and your teens too.

Your four-year-old never needs to know about this. If your eight-year-old is your eldest child there’s no reason to talk to them either. I’ve got a really easy solution for you and it began for me on September 11, 2001.

When America was invaded by terrorists I had a newborn child and a toddler. Every image on the television was of the towers crumbling to dust. I did not want my three-year-old daughter to have that image seared into her brain so I turned the TV off and lived without cable TV news. I got my information from news sites online and broadcasts after the kids went to bed. Not only was it the right decision for my kids, but it turned out to be the right decision for me.

It’s been 11 years and I have not yet turned cable news back on. The background noise of television is gone from my life and I’m really happy with it. I wasn’t getting particularly well-researched news, I was getting breaking news. You don’t need breaking news outside of your own community. It’s okay to find out about things 4 or 5 or even 12 hours after they’ve happened. It’s okay to get news later in the day.

It’s also okay to have children who never consume TV news. It’s not the best of journalism and your children won’t be missing vital information. No one who watches these shows becomes informed, literate, or balanced, they simply watch TV.

Will you want to talk to your friends about this event? Absolutely. We, adults, are collectively shocked, horrified, and saddened but we don’t burden our children with other life events they cannot process. Why would we burden them with this?

You get one chance to give your children the gift of childhood. If you don’t live in Newtown Connecticut there’s no good reason to rob them of that.

If you live in Newtown my heart aches for you.

13 thoughts on “Parenting Through Tragedy and a 24 Hour News Cycle”

  1. I appreciate your thoughts on this, Jessica. Why would we burden them with this, indeed. I was on IM talking with my wife about this when your post came up. I’m a 40 year old man, and I’m having a hard enough time thinking through the terror. All I can do is pray. I’m not going to pass this terror on to my youngest kids.

    1. Right? And big kids will want to protect the little kids too. It’s not that difficult when they’re little.
      It won’t be any fun today with my kids… but really it can be done when they’re in elementary school.

  2. Sadly I know that many of their friends will bring it up to them, so I do discuss it with my kids, both because I would rather they would hear it from me, and because they have security measures in place because of these events happening in school.

  3. I do discuss it with my kids because I know they will hear it…and their school does lock-down drills just for this kind of very sad situation. It makes me sad and breaks my mother-heart…but I still feel like they need to know.

  4. By the time your child is in elementary school, you do need to approach the subject with them, because if it’s not you that tells them of this horrific event, someone will. And it will likely be another child at school and it will likely be an inflated story that worries your child sick all day because he heard it from a “friend” and not from you–and by you, I mean a parent. I wish we could keep our children sheltered from the news. We can’t.

    I’m not saying “turn the news on and watch!” I’m saying tell them the minimum they need to know. The very, very minimum. Answer their questions as simply as possible.

    then, we need to continue to remind them that we keep them as safe as we possibly can in life and that we are always here for them with lots of hugs, lots of love and lots of support.

    1. Family Support/ Mentor

      You are driving your son to feel scary. They don’t know a lot of adult bad behaviors. It’s up to you to show to kids the bad face of the world before the live show them why and how to handle it.

  5. This is a wonderful post as I was going over in my head how I should tell my children, should I? Shouldn’t I ? I now made the decision that it is not necessary. Not at all necessary. Thank you for helping me come to that decision.

  6. Stephanie Himel-Nelson

    I was actually at my 6 year old’s school holiday party when a friend texted me the horrible news. My son even asked me, “Why are you sad, Mommy?” I just said that I’d gotten some bad news but that he shouldn’t worry about it and enjoy his party.
    Unfortunately, I’m afraid my 8 year old is going to ask me about it because we’ve already heard people discussing it. It’s going to come up. The same way 9/11 has. My kids were born long after the fact, but it’s impossible to miss every year. Plus, with a dad who was in the Navy, an uncle fighting in Afghanistan, and soooo many friends with families in the military, we’ve had to discuss death before. Even more difficult, we’ve had to discuss war.
    I’m not going to bring it up before they do and I’m not going to go into details. And I won’t let them watch tv. But I’m pretty sure we’ll have to talk about it.

  7. I totally agree with what you are saying here, unfortunately we did feel we had to tell our kids b/c they were hearing about it from friends (they are 7, 10 & 13). I did keep it very matter-of-fact, with as little detail as possible, and just assured them that their school is taking every precaution to keep them safe. Of course, they then informed me about their lockdown drills. ~sigh~

    I totally agree with the sentiment to let kids be kids as much as is possible. We never have the news on. EVER.

  8. Looking for an image to go with a poem inspired by recent events in Uvalde TX, I discovered your essay here and agree entirely with you. I have shared a link to this on my Facebook page.

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