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 is 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.