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 about 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 really have any plan to prevent the next tragedy.