Sunday, December 4th, 2016

When answers fail parents

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When answers fail parents

 Parenting, living in scary world not always easy
Waukesha Freeman Page A6, Opinion  4/18/2013

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I picked up my 12-year-old son at his grandmother’s Monday and asked him if he had heard yet about what was happening in Boston. No, he told me, and so I gave him a brief explanation as I turned on the car radio again.

As hard as I found it to explain to my son, I had to explain it again to his younger sister. I tried to cushion it as much as possible and even encouraged her to leave the room as I watched the news.

However, I still had to explain that something terrible happened, people were injured and killed, and we didn’t know who was responsible. That’s unsettling news for an adult, let alone a child in grade school.

My son asked me if what happened in Boston was similar to what happened on Sept. 11. At the time of the Sept. 11 attack, my son was not even a year old, but he’s learned about that horrible day from television and from his parents.

I tried to explain the differences. The scale of the Boston terrorist attack was smaller. There were a lot less people killed Monday.

It’s hard to explain to my children the shock of our country getting attacked on our own territory without warning for the first time since Pearl Harbor in 1941. To them, the World Trade Center falling down is something on the History Channel that daddy always watches.

As we settled in to the news coverage Monday night, my son told me that the bombing in Boston was a topic on the video game message board he uses. It was discussed the next day in his social studies class. Even if I tried to shield my child from the story I would not have been successful.

I don’t have any special advice for parents on how to discuss a terrorist attack or a mass shooting event with their children. I’m not a parenting “expert,” I just have two experiments of my own, and I’m trying my best with them.

Since there is no shielding them from the news (especially in my house) I just try to be as honest with them as I can. Over the years I’ve explained to them that the world is a dangerous place. That even in Waukesha bad people sometimes do bad things and people get hurt, sometimes killed. I always tell them that the odds of something horrible like what they were seeing on television on Monday actually happening to them are pretty small.

On the other hand, when these horrible events do occur, I caution them that the first news reports often contain wrong information. I tell them that the information will change as reporters learn more about the situation.

We saw that again on Monday when we were told a suspect was in custody, that a “person of interest” was under guard at a hospital, that there were more than two bombs, that the library fire was another part of the attack, that the death toll would be much higher than the two reported (so far it’s three), and so on.

It doesn’t help, either, when on-air personalities and prominent people speculate on the identity of the terrorists involved with no information. Usually the speculation is the product of the person’s political bias. Daddy often finds himself explaining to his children that the authoritative-looking people on television really don’t know what they’re talking about.

With anxiety already high in our children, some goofball chose Tuesday to take a stroll near Carroll University with a realistic-looking airsoft rifle, scaring the bejabbers out of everyone and causing schools in the area to go into “lockdown.” My daughter was in one of the schools that was locked down and the incident scared her, even though (thankfully) it was a false alarm.

I find myself spending too much time explaining the scary things in real life to my children. I wish I could go back to the days of telling them there is no monster under the bed. These days my children aren’t the only ones sleeping with a light on.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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