How to talk to your kids when the news is full of horrible scary thingsJanuary 8, 2020
Like everyone, kids will hear horrible news today that can be scary. They will hear about wars and rumors of wars. They will hear that after the United States killed a bad guy named Qasem Soleimani, his country retaliated by bombing a place where U.S. military personnel live in Iraq. Depending on which station you have tuned in on your car radio and which commentators you’re listening to (and repeating in their hearing), conversations surrounding war, revenge, death and Islam are inevitable. As your kids head to school or engage on social media, they are going to encounter other kids who commenting on and seeking to perpetuate the fear and anxiety many feel and need to process today.
So, going beyond what Time magazine has offered, how should we talk with our kids about Iran and the bombings of U.S. bases in the Middle East?
Here are five factors to consider as you prayerfully prepare to talk with your kids:
First, tell the truth.
We are people of the truth and you never want to tell your child something that later in life you’ll have to confess was not true. Facts matter and you are your child’s most trusted source of reliable information. Your child may have heard misinformation or information skewed by commentators who tend to opine before all the facts are in. As a story unfolds in the news, children’s ideas about events are formed and my be shaped in ways that lead them to believe things about reality that are not true. Children are still developing their ability to process complex information and discern truth. You are the primary person in a position to help them process what their hearing and filter or limit their exposure when they’re with you.
This is a developing story which means that the facts are continually evolving. The frequency, depth and breadth of information you share with your child depends on their age and interest, but whatever you share with them must be factually true. This is a conversation about real evil and the storyline is sufficiently colorful without need for embellishment or mischaracterization of the parties involved. Guard against assumptions and descriptions that demean individuals or people groups while telling your kids the truth about how much ideas matter – and bad ideas have victims.
Second, tell it as a story.
Kids process through narrative much more effectively than they do a list of dates, times and facts. Help your child understand what’s happening by helping them see the story as it unfolds across history (Christianity, Persia, Islam, Shia vs Sunni, Israel, Iranian revolution, Iran vs Iraq war, Gulf War, 9/11, the war in Iraq, etc.). If the facts help children understand what’s going on, the storyline helps them understand who is involved and how things got to this place. As with any story, they need to understand a basic timeline and the characters involved. Who are the players and how do they interact? The detail and complexity you share depends on your child’s age and development. For those who can understand, you can explain the role of Solemani’s faith and ideology, America’s motive in ending his life and what and why we believe about revenge, retribution and retaliation. This is an opportunity to talk about the Christian faith in terms of our own personal relationships and the more secular approach we take as a nation in geo-political engagement.
Remember, we’re not just helping our kids process through the news of the day, we forming and informing how they will process difficult events throughout their lives. This is about instilling a sense of history, resilience and faith in the midst of a teachable moment. And this teachable moment is provides stark examples of good and evil, life and death. It seems important here to add that you are responsible to help monitor, gauge and control the flow of information to your child. You know best when your child is ready to process to certain information and you know when its just too much for your kid. Turn off the media and go outside and play. They overhear everything you’re listening to and everything you’re saying to others. And your emotions are contagious.
Third, tend to feelings.
Your child may be feeling anxious and afraid. Your job today is to anticipate and tend to the doubts, questions, anxiety and fear arising in your child’s heart and mind. Since the fall, human beings have walked in fear of violence. Sometimes those fears are reasonable and some times they are not. We do not live in a war zone and the missiles Iran is shooting cannot reach our homes or schools. But ideas know no geography and it is possible that someone who sympathizes with Iran could take action closer to our home.
Ask your kids to be as specific as possible about their fears. Is is safe to go to school or church or the Superbowl? Will Iran bomb our town? Will my cousin who is in the Army die if he’s deployed right now to Iraq? While the fear of bombings here at home are not reasonable, the fear for the cousin in the Army is reasonable. This is the time for conversations about God’s goodness, bigness, sovereignty and grace. This is the time to pray with your child in ways that teach them to pray with confidence in God as Father who protects us from evil and shepherds through dark valleys without fear because He is with us. You have the opportunity to demonstrate and articulate YOUR faith and lead your child to follow you in faith, trusting God in life’s most difficult circumstances.
Fourth, contend for the faith.
When news breaks, how do you respond? Consider today that breaking news is an opportunity for you, as a parent, to reflect the reality that we live in a Gospel universe. God is real and really God. God does not change and you can trust Him, always. Sin is real and horrible things happen because of it. But God is good and always available. What happened today – in your heart, in our home, in our nation, around the world – God knows it all, God cares about all of it, God is working right now in that place through His people and God wants us to talk with Him about what we’re feeling. We live in a fallen and broken world but we also live in a world where God reigns and we bear witness to His Kingdom. Your child is right when they observe its not supposed to be this way – but one day it will be like its supposed to be, again.
As you talk with your children about violence, evil and sin you are enlightening them to how the Word of God shapes our response as people of faith in a Gospel universe. As you walk with them through this shadowy valley, you help them live into Psalm 23. As you demonstrate a heart of faith in the midst of the unknown, you show them how to walk by faith and not by sight. As you hold their hand and tend to their heart, you build trust and you communicate the personal nature of God’s tender care. As you pray with them for peace using Philippians 4:6-7 you train your child up in the Way they should go.
Parents don’t get to pick the topics that occupy the news cycle. But you do get to shape the way your children think about them if you are intentional in your efforts. By integrating the five factors discussed above, parents can have gospel-shaped conversations with their children about the current events in the Middle East and any other complex cultural issue that may arise in the hours and days ahead.