Like most of you, I woke up Friday morning to the news that someone had killed 12 people and injured more than 50 by shooting up a movie theater in Colorado. Yesterday, my eyes opened to the news of the NCAA placing sanctions on Penn State for covering up horrific crimes against children. It’s tough enough to process those things on my own — but then I had to explain them to my kids.
No matter how hard we try, we can’t always shelter our kids from the ugliness of life. We can’t keep them ignorant of the evil in the world. Even if you keep the radio and the TV off and don’t subscribe to the newspaper, your kids will hear things from friends or from overhearing adults talking about it.
As much as we’d like to ignore it, as much as we’d like to put a bubble around our kids so evil can’t touch their innocence, we can’t. And if we act like it’s not a big deal or we refuse to discuss it with our kids, then we let someone else shape their perception of the world. We let someone else shape their perception of God. Because if we don’t answer their questions, they’ll keep asking people until someone does.
So, if we can’t ignore the evil in the world, how do we talk about it with our kids without scaring them and without making them question the good in the world?
Be honest. Don’t try to gloss over the horror or the magnitude of something like the Colorado killings or the Penn State abuse scandal. Your kids need to know that it’s a big deal. They need to know that you’re horrified as well. If we pass it off as no big deal or something our kids don’t need to worry about, then we teach them that those types of things aren’t worthy of our attention when the truth is that those types of things should break our hearts, just as they break the heart of God.
Keep it at their level. Give your kids only the details that are appropriate for their age. Last night at dinner, my girls wanted to know about the Penn State scandal. One of the questions they asked was “What did that guy do to the kids?” We didn’t want to put those images in the heads of our kids, so we simply told our girls that he abused the kids and we didn’t really need to know exactly what he did. It’s enough to know that he hurt children. If your child is very young, keep things simple. Explain that sometimes people do wrong things and they hurt a lot of people and that makes God and us very sad.
Deal with their fears. One of my girls said she didn’t want to go to the movie theater after the Colorado shooting. We talked about how uncommon what happened in Colorado is. We talked about the fact that it’s news because it doesn’t happen very often. We also talked about how God is in control no matter what, so even if it did happen to us, we would know that God would take care of us. It’s important to let our kids share their fears with us so that we can put them in perspective. Otherwise, they can become out of control and keep our kids from doing everyday things.
Look for the good. On the flip side of horrific events like the Colorado shooting, there are usually stories of amazing heroism. Share those stories with your kids. Let them know that one evil act by one person doesn’t negate the inherent good found in most people. We want our kids to view every day as an adventure and other people as trustworthy. We don’t want to raise kids who are suspicious of everyone and everything. By reminding them that even in bad situations, good things happen, we are focusing them on the good instead of the evil and we are robbing Satan of the opportunity to create a spirit of fear and distrust in our kids.
Grab the opportunity to teach. There are valuable lessons we can teach our kids when tragic things happen. Our discussion of the Penn State scandal last night gave us a great opportunity to talk about how important it is to do the right thing even when it seems like the consequences will be bad. We also talked about how our choices rarely affect only us and how wrong choices can have far-reaching effects that we never dreamed of. When it seems the world has gone crazy, look for the lesson in the madness — and share it with your kids. Real life is often the best teaching tool we have.
Pray. Encourage your kids to pray for the victims of the evil act. Encourage them to pray about their fears. When we hand everything over to God, we acknowledge that He is in control even when it seems like evil is winning. Cover the situation and your family in prayer. It is the most powerful tool we have against evil.
Unfortunately, evil is a part of this world. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” When Satan gets his moment through the evil actions of people, we can stop the effect he has on our kids by simply turning the tragedy into an opportunity. We can help our kids process the tragedy and draw their focus back toward God.