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Letting kids watch the news

In case you've been living in a hole for a few weeks...there are jumbo passenger jets being shot out of the sky, children being killed on beaches by shelling, kids being sent--alone--by their parents away from conditions so violent and poor that they show up at the US border begging for asylum.

It's pretty bleak out there.

I recently took some heat in a dads group I'm a part of for being in the definite minority in letting kids--especially young kids--view the day's news on tv. Which surprised me. Granted, we're a bit more of a touchy-feely bunch, maybe, than your typical group of men. But I figured if anybody was going to encourage children to know current events it would be the dads. The obvious stereotype of moms is being the overprotective gender. A few members of the dad group, however, made some sweeping, bold statements about the news being unnecessary for children under 12.

I suppose it's a matter of perspective. After a number of comments ranging from being anti-screen time altogether (another pet peeve of mine) to issues with not wanting to answer the inevitable questions, I felt like I needed to do some explaining to put our household in perspective. I certainly wouldn't make any blanket statements that either A) all kids should watch the news or B) no kids should watch the news. There is value, in my opinion, in beginning to use the news as a way of engaging young people and educating them about the, yes, often twisted world we live in. It's our world nonetheless. Some children may benefit. Others may not. Your mileage as a parent may vary.

The explanation went something like daughter is a bit of a forensics and medical expert. She falls asleep at night, frequently, to tales of murder mystery on PBS. She delights in seeing muscles and bones, playing in dirt, seeing bugs. In other words, she doesn't scare easily. My son, on the other hand, is very sensitive--especially to frightening scenes of fiction in movies. But, at the end of the day while I snuggle next to him in his room after reading bedtime stories, he always has good (amazing, actually) questions. About where garbage goes, how we go to police officers if we're in trouble, why the brick work on the front of our condo building needs to be repaired. Naptime is for Charlie Rose talking global politics. At 6pm Curious George gives way to Newshour.

In short, we're raising kids very concerned and curious about how the world works. These are children who know that some animals eat other animals. That mammals give birth to young while many other creatures hatch out of eggs. If I think an answer may scare one of them, I'm still truthful. I try not to sugarcoat. Simplify, yes. Are your children old enough to understand Sunni and Shiite differences to explain complicated armed struggles? Maybe not. But my 3 year old understands that it is wrong to kill, but people do it anyway...and even more, that good people are trying to fight back. 

Which plays into my other theme of some of the parents out there who want to shield their kids from news. I think a good chunk of overprotective parenting instinct comes from a parental lack of education. Parents themselves are unsure how the world works so they hesitate to listen to inquisitive kids ask questions where they are afraid of their own answers. Many parents are afraid to say "I don't know" and then find out for their child. My son is well-aware of "let's Google that" to learn something new. And, for some parents, it is about an immature theology of not yet being out of the Sunday school mentality. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there evil? We often fall back on God as a man in the clouds, heaven and hell, and us-them conflict as easy ways to handle monumental philosophical problems. ...Which have been dealt with by generations previous! Get thee to the library. Suffering? There's a whole philosophical system to handle that problem. Buddha certainly thought he had a solution.

Not to say that I'm attempting to take the mystery out of life for my children. It makes me happy when my son shouts back at me "because it's my life, not yours" as his existentialist reply to my attempts to correct him. Nothing wrong with a feisty independent streak, either. But I'm also trying to raise my kids with a healthy scientific awe about the planet, the universe, the body, cultures. It may be overwhelming and ultimately unknowable but that doesn't mean we throw our hands in the air and give up.

We can try to make guesses, figure things out, learn, reach across rivers and build bridges...sometimes to scary places. I wrote to my dads group that my response to my children when they are scared is always "do I look scared?" If mama and daddy aren't crying, there isn't any reason for you to. As parents, we should be setting examples of strength, intellect, and clarity for the next generation.

Or maybe that's just me? Go ahead, turn on old episodes of Who's The Boss? But is Tony Danza really less offensive than learning that veterans don't have decent healthcare? I say no. (Sorry, Tony, love you.)