After the Shooting’s Over, How to Protect the Kids

We had a short-lived debate in our public-radio newsroom this afternoon on whether it’s wise to advise parents to “turn off the TV” to shield their children from unfiltered news of today’s school slaughter–at least until mom and dad can figure out what they’re going to say and sit down with the kids to discuss the terrible event.

It wouldn’t have been a debate except for me expressing the apparently way-out view that it’s inappropriate to try to shelter the kids from the news. First, everyone the kids know is already talking about what happened today, and they’re very savvy about finding and sharing information. Of course, it is a good idea to try to talk to them and be attentive to the emotions they express (or may find it hard to express) today and in the weeks and months to come.

But I also wonder what it is we think we’re protecting them from. Is it the horrible act of violence we’ve witnessed today?

My generation grew up with unfiltered views of one nation-altering assassination after another, not to mention intimate and graphic views of the Vietnam War. Occasionally, our parents would talk to us about what we were seeing. What spoke most eloquently to me, though, was seeing how they reacted to these tragedies as they unfolded. I remember a close family friend, a newspaper editor in Chicago, weeping the evening Bobby Kennedy died. That said more to me about the nature and the import of the event than any carefully framed message ever could have.

It also meant something that my parents and some others in the neighborhood each tried in smaller or larger ways to change what they saw happening around them. That wasn’t part of a carefully crafted lesson for us kids, either. They felt something was wrong–with the war, for instance, or the fact that families in a nearby town were living in converted boxcars–and decided to march or volunteer. Again, that told us a lot more the world we lived in (and about them) than anything they could have said. Thinking about it now, maybe I wish more of what they were doing had rubbed off on me.

And that gets to the heart of what I find most disturbing about today. Perhaps this horror will shake us out of our collective complacency and acceptance of this particular kind of crime. Maybe there will be a “One Million Parent March” and we’ll take some effective steps to limit the sale of weapons to the deranged and enraged. But how many of us really expect that?

I say let the kids see the TV news, and watch it with them. The news we mustn’t let them hear is that the adults they depend on let today happen and don’t have any plan to prevent the next tragedy.

3 Comments

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3 Responses to After the Shooting’s Over, How to Protect the Kids

  1. Marie

    Good post, Dan. I agree with you. I remember walking in the door the first night of Desert Storm. The girls were almost 7 and 6, and they were standing about three feet in front of the TV with my mom, as the tracings of missiles flying through the air were broadcast on live TV, things were blowing up in the distance, and the American reporter was demonstrating how to stab yourself in the thigh with an epi-pen. I can still hear Laura saying, “are they going to come here?” But I knew right then that it would always be better (not necessarily easier) to talk to them than to try and shield them.

  2. Eamon

    ‘Maybe there will be a “One Million Parent March” and we’ll take some effective steps to limit the sale of weapons to the deranged and enraged’
    Who determines who’s deranged and enraged? What does that even mean? I find myself pretty enraged but there’s nothing in my general demeanor to suggest that I may go on a shooting spree in the subway because I’ve just had enough. Until we except that guns (especially the hand and assault type weapons that cause most of but not all the distress) have no place in society there’s really no way to prevent the “wrong” person from purchasing a weapon. In 2001 when I was in Japan for the first time there was a mass killing at a school. This same thing happened in China this week. The big difference (besides this not being a monthly occurrence in those countries) is that the weapon of choice was a knife. In China no-one died (23 were injured), in Japan 8 died (15 were injured).
    One concern I have about letting kids watch the news today is that it’s so filled with horror, and in many cases the reporters seem to almost revel in it, that I feel it has a numbing quality. I have often felt guilty over my own lack of emotion in relation to these events on TV. Maybe I am a callous individual, but I think it has more to do with TV announcements of violence and death just become part of the background noise of life. “Oh another mass killing… Too bad nothing will change” is how I generally feel.

  3. Dan

    Eamon, I actually agree with you on the “deranged/enraged” issue. Most people fall victim to guns when some other “rational” person takes it into their head to settle an argument or rob a corner store. Plus, the NRA has gone to work trying to restore gun ownership even to those who have been judged mentally incompetent to possess one (here’s a story from the Times last year: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/03/us/03guns.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
    As far as the news goes, yes, the landscape has changed and there is a luridness built into the programming, especially on the cable networks, which are perpetually hungry for the next sensational story. When I say let the kids watch, I’m not imagining a scenario where a 5- or 9- or 13-year-old is going to be parked in front of CNN all day, though. They’ll get glimpses on TV which will probably just supplement (at least for older kids) what they encounter online.

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