How to talk to kids about the current political apocalypse
As a former educator and the mom of a precocious soon-to-be five year old, I've spent a lot of time since November 8th thinking about how to talk to kids about the current political climate in the United States. No matter how you voted or what you believe, if you work with young people you've seen the impact of the election season and its aftermath on kids. And if you're a progressive, as I am, you're dealing with your own confusion and grief while trying not to destroy any sense of hope for the future in the young minds you're around on a daily basis. So how are we as grown-ups to deal?
I was teaching in New York City in 2001 when the Twin Towers collapsed. We were in the middle of a guided reading session when the teacher next door stormed into my room and shouted, "They're attacking us!" This was before we had reliable internet connections in schools, and our cell phones were all dead, so there was no way to know what was really going on. Information trickled in throughout the day as a few families slowly showed up to take kids home early. Up in the South Bronx, we were safe, but we didn't really know that at the time. All I knew was that I had 30 scared kids relying on me to get them through the day. I did the only thing I could do; I spoke to and with my students from my heart.
As a second year teacher -- a young, white, under-prepared one at that -- I had until this point in my classroom tried to maintain a healthy distance from my middle school students. I went by Ms. Jones. I wore my glasses all the time, to look older than my 23 years. But on September 11th, I decided the best thing to do was to be honest, to be myself, and to be vulnerable. It's a strategy I've held on to ever since. As a teacher, a facilitator and now, as a mother, I default to vigorous honesty and open vulnerability in times of crisis. I don't pretend to be an expert when I'm not. I don't downplay or disregard feelings or ideas that youth share with me and with their peers. I don't tell kids that every thing will be okay when it might not be. I try to help kids cope, and I let them see me trying to cope as well.
I truly believe that when you approach conversations with kids in this way, you'll be more likely to do and say the right thing. Of course, it's crucial to remember your role (and your power) as an adult in these situations, but that doesn't mean you can't be vulnerable. It doesn't mean you can't be you. I've had tricky, difficult and messy conversations with kids on every subject from terrorism to death, from sex to race and beyond. And I've always tried to do so in a way that feels real to me.
When it comes to the current situation that the United States finds itself in, I'm honestly afraid for the future. And I want my daughter to know that I'm afraid, that the threats to our family, our loved ones, to the things we believe in, are real. But most of all I want her to know that I'm doing something about it, and that she can to -- now and in the future. I think it's working.