Breaking Down Breaking News

. March 31, 2019.
Kitchen table politics

All parents have been there: A moment not even the best DVR can help us avoid. For me, it has happened in several ways, but the latest was this: The TV was on, and the football game I was watching had turned to a commercial. An evening game, on network television, before the game came back on there was a teaser for that evening’s news broadcast. And all it said, was “16-year-old murdered! More at 11.” Now, I am not the best father in the world, and I don’t claim to have this whole parenting thing figured out, but I do know that this is not the type of news snippet you want your young children hearing while reading a book next to you on the couch as you’re watching a football game!

Now, maybe your version of this story is different, but the issue we have to deal with as parents is: how much do we want our small children to absorb? Our task is to figure out how we can talk to our children about these headlines that penetrate developing minds.

A few tips:

“What.” The first thing my wife and I do when our kids hear something terrible that has happened in the world is to reassure them and remind them that they are indeed safe. We try, to the best of our ability, to involve literal context to the explanation. Call this the “what” portion of the conversation. This is what happened, this is where it happened. But you are not there, and it did not happen to you. You are safe.

“Why.” This of course leads to the “why” portion of the conversation, and therefore the most difficult. When my kids ask about why these terrible events take place, one of the more important truths I try to communicate is simply that I believe people are good, and unfortunately, good people do bad things. And when good people do bad things, there are very real consequences that need to take place every single time. The point here is that I don’t want to raise my children to simply slice up the world into good and bad. I think our world is more nuanced than that. And while it’s harder to parent this way, I think it’s worth it. No one is as bad as the worst thing they’ve done. And I think the news can help us illustrate that, if we let it.


Next, my wife and I try to remind our children that only the worst stories make the news. This isn’t happening everywhere, and it doesn’t even happen everyday. And, more importantly, to steal a line from Mr. Rogers, we are better off to “look for the helpers.” Because when tragedy strikes, what we know is there are wonderful people who are there to help, committed to helping however they can. Whether it is police, firefighters, first responders, or volunteers, there are people who help.

Rest assured, none of this is easy for us parents. But, to me, there just isn’t another alternative. I believe these little conversations are like putting tools in my girls; child-size tool belts for them to use as they grow, develop, and engage with the world around them. And, as we engage in conversation more and more, we are equipping our kids to be helpers themselves and, maybe, even create better headlines.