Why I believe we should talk to our kids about tragedy

Reva shares her thoughts on why kids should be exposed to global events at a young age.

Photo: LCBallard/iStockphoto

I’m scared by what I’m taking on next year with my school-at-home plan for my eldest son. But every now and then something happens which reminds me that his best educational experiences seem to occur outside of the classroom anyway. So, regardless of how the details for this coming September eventually come together, creating the opportunity to have more of those positive moments is a good thing.

The tragedy in Boston is the most recent example of this.

In the days after the story broke, I asked my eldest son if they had talked it about it at school — he said no. I had asked him the same question after Sandy Hook, during the US presidential election and after the Ontario teachers strike and each time I got the same answer.

Of course I understand why — I just don’t agree with the approach.

I know that the response of many parents to frightening events is to shield their children from the news — an uphill battle, I would argue, considering we live in a world filled with smartphones, TVs in subway stations and a 24/7 news cycle). I appreciate that discussing politics in the classroom is controversial and I completely sympathize with the reality of trying to have age-appropriate discussions in a classroom of 21 or 22 kids. But I still believe we should try. The decision not to bring current events into the classroom (as horrible as they might be) is a real loss for our children’s education and personal development.

I can’t say for certain what other schools or teachers do (and I would be interested to find out more), but just from asking around, posting questions on Facebook and doing some reading, it seems that in the younger grades of elementary school, current events are generally not a part of the school day or classroom discussion.

Yes, I completely agree that kids don’t need to see graphic footage or hear gruesome details over and over — that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m thinking more along the lines of having an open discussion about what’s in the news, sharing responses and correcting inaccuracies.

We have the tools to do this without scaring them — so why aren’t we?

While all kids are different, I believe that six-, seven- and eight-year-olds should have a forum that allows them to start talking about what they have heard or read — particularly in the safe setting of a classroom, versus on the playground.

Kids at this age are starting to develop their moral beliefs, and regularly talking about current events will help them to develop the framework to do this on their own.

My son and I frequently take the subway together and, now that he’s able to read, we usually sit and go through Toronto’s Metro News. He’s thrilled to be reading a “newspaper” and it’s at times like these, surrounded by stressed commuters crammed in a subway car during rush hour, that we have some of our most educational moments. We often look at the stories that aren’t pleasant — bombings, job losses or oil spills — and we talk about them. It can be uncomfortable and difficult, but important ideas and realizations tend to make you feel that way — whether you are six, 16 or 60.

The Institute for Research on Public Policy has found that young Canadians (and young Americans) have extremely low levels of political knowledge — significantly lower than their counterparts in Europe. The research concluded that European nations are much better at providing young people with the skills that help turn them into participating citizens. Following current events, even in the most simplistic form, helps kids realize that we are all interconnected and that the events “out there” matters.

Last year, we took our kids to India for the first time. For all its vibrancy, India is jarring. Each time we stepped outside of our hotel, we saw children the same age as our two older boys working — dusty, sweet little kids, carrying bricks to a construction site. It was disturbing for them (and us), just as it should be. But it also provided an opportunity for us to talk about why these kids were working and not in school — and what we could do today, and in the future, to help.

With Free The Children and the Me to We movement, brothers Craig and Mark Kielburger have shown that young adults, and even little children, have an interest and the capacity to engage with global events if we let them.

If we want our children to care about global issues and ideas when they are older, then part of our approach to education — even for kids as young as six or seven — has to include sharing the real world with them, in all its uncomfortable messiness.

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