Parenting the Apocalypse Du Jour In Three Not-So-Easy Steps
Time Magazine, most likely to promote their Time for Kids outlet, put out a piece entitled “How to Talk to Your Kids About the Situation With Iran”:
On Jan. 3, the U.S. military carried out a drone attack in Iraq. The attack killed Qasem Soleimani, a top military leader from Iran. The action comes after increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and has fueled anxiety about what might happen as a result. The situation is dominating the news, and children who hear about it are likely to have lots of questions.
We realize this is a difficult topic to explain to kids. TIME for Kids is here to help. The guide below offers talking points for how to answer questions about this tough topic. It’s not intended to be used as a script. It’s meant to arm you with the information you need if you choose to bring up the topic or if kids ask questions about it.
Trust your instincts. You know your kids best. Use that knowledge to gauge the depth and breadth of your discussion. Sometimes, it’s best to let a child take the lead and only answer the questions that are asked. Often, brief and simple answers can satisfy a child’s curiosity.
So good so far, but what follows is a mismatch of half facts, platitudes, and only telling half the story, wrapped up with a psychologist’s suggestions and a handy dandy acronym. According to Time, nothing much happened in American-Iran relations between Presidents Carter and Trump. Now, obviously you are not going to firehose a kid with information, but that still seems a smidge light. It’s not unusual to go with the “just tell them what you want them to know” theory of large scale events, but that also has a downside that I think makes it perilous. Additionally, every kid is very different in how they intake, process, and deal with information. Add to it the varying level of parenting skills, and the idea of one-size-fits-all information of current events is quickly a fool’s errand. Once you figure in the cranked up media environment of politics and fears of war, and you have a gigantic mess that is not going to be easily funneled into a young mind.
So what to do?
I don’t know either.
I have often believed myself to be a lousy parent, for the most part, having spent years gone on active duty for my older children, and working away and long hours after my service ended for the younger ones. But four kids into my own parenting journey, I have learned a few things not to do, and following the ridiculousness of that Time article seems like a good time to break out a few bits of hard earned wisdom.
1) WHATEVER YOU DO, TELL THE TRUTH
Your child lives in the age of Google. Especially if they are old enough to have their own smart phone or computer, you not only have a child, but a real time fact checker. They will double check what you are telling them, and they will know if you aren’t being straight, and then you are in a world of hurt. If you don’t remember what year the Shah was deposed, Google it. They will anyway, so just do it with them. Can’t remember why Iraq-Iran was fighting? Look it up together. What was the name of the US ship hit by Iran, or the Iranian airliner another US ship shot down by mistake? Look it up together. Don’t be afraid of “I don’t know”. You want your kid to have facts, and seek the truth, not just be caught up in the moment. The 40+ years of conflict, longer if you go back to the 1950s installation of the Shah in the first place, is complicated enough that even experts struggle with it. But you can make it into a historical treasure hunt of facts from which both of you will probably learn something if you are diligent with sticking to good sourcing, and learning to research current events is a valuable life skill in children who will grow up with omnipresent media and information. Might as well start now.
2) MAKE SURE YOU ARE GIVING WIDER PERSPECTIVE THAN JUST THE NEWS CYCLE OF THE MOMENT
Fear and anxiety are normal for a kid trying to process something that is too big for them, so while you want to break it into digestible chunks, don’t lose perspective of wider history. There is comfort in knowing that most things that happen have a historical precedent, or at least something that can be related to, and future events will continue. The current news cycle is your enemy on this one, as everything is the most important thing ev-ah and you must totally focus on it right this minute, yada yada yada. Push back on that with facts, that events have an ebb and flow to them, and the apocalypse isn’t really just around the corner no matter how badly folks might want it to be for their own various reasons. If you panic, they panic. If you take some perspective that even a dark day will pass, they will as well, or at least know that it is possible. Somewhere in there make sure they know, and you remind yourself, the sun also rises.
3) BALANCE THE WIDER WORLD WITH WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW WITH YOUR FAMILY
Simple as it sounds, any time spent with your child is good time spent. Even though they are curious, or fearful, or anxious, or just want to know what all the fuss is about, keep in mind you are not just imparting knowledge of the moment but also imprinting on them how to handle crisis. I, like many of my age and generation, can tell you nearly every detail of the day the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, a traumatic event for kids because of the way it had been hyped up to school children. But the real lessons of that day as I’ve gotten older is recalling how my father handled it with me, trying to explain the unexplainable. Today it is Iran, but there will always be a breaking news event, and throughout your child’s life and development the events of the world will just keep coming. Knowing they have that family base, one that is about understanding the times not just reacting to them, is a vital piece of growing up. Take advantage of the moment to teach that very thing, even though you aren’t expressly telling them that.
Notice I haven’t really talked about politics, ideology, or used many of the current buzzwords and labels. You can do that, but it’s my opinion that isn’t really what your kid needs at the moment. You can rail against whomever all you want, but I would suggest building a basis of seeking truth and handling unsettling information in a trustworthy fashion is more important at times like this than making sure your child comes out with your exact viewpoint. Besides, if you are seeking the right things, the true things, they will do that too and you’ll wind up ok for the most part. Parenting is not an exact science, after all.
Otherwise they wouldn’t call it parenting.
They would call it easy.
And how boring that would be.