The Adult’s Challenge after the Tragedy in Orlando

From CNN.COM June 6, 2016
From CNN.COM June 6, 2016

Last November I wrote a piece the morning after the Paris terrorist attack. (I have copied it below). Much of what I wrote seems sadly relevant to the Orlando attack at the Pulse Night Club where there were forty-nine victim mortalities and even more injuries, many critical. This latest attack is just that…the latest attack.  Even though it has its own very specific context—in Orlando, at a Gay Nightclub, a single attacker—it seems to be not only identified by its specific details and scale, but by the fact that it is the most recent. There is a growing resignation and accompanying corrosive angst that the next incident of mass murder is inevitable and not that far in the future. That combination—resignation and angst—does not serve us well. It diminishes us. As parents and as adults in the lives of young people we should rise to the challenge of being the thoughtful people our children most need us to be in this moment of disquieting uncertainty at home and abroad. As our nation and the world seems to be pulling at its seams, we need to pull young people to us and into conversation.

My work is as an educator, specifically a school head, and my worry today regards the anxiety we pass to our children even without an awareness that we are doing so. Rather than having conversation with young people about what has occurred in Orlando or in Charleston or in Paris or San Bernardino, we too often move on without the reflection such moments should prompt.

“I wonder if this makes us vulnerable to a sort of national depression, borne from under-sharing what we should share, ironically in a time when oversharing the mundane and unnecessarily intimate is increasingly normative.”

Generally, there are two mistakes that families are likely to make with children when something as truly terrible as the Pulse Nightclub attack occurs. First, the news media shares such graphic imagery that we pull our children out of the way of it and thus do nothing to share with them at all. Each time we do this, the weight of our perceived loss of control over national and world events gets a bit heavier and consequently, the young among us carry an increasing share of the weight as well. Second, and perhaps even worse, we give our children too much access to graphic media, and we do not create avenues for them to process what they see and hear.  Either mistake we are likely to make–providing too little or too much access to media regarding such tragedy– leads to the same problem, that is, without discussion, there is nothing to break the tension created by what has happened. I wonder if this makes us vulnerable to a sort of national depression, borne from under-sharing what we should share, ironically in a time when oversharing the mundane and unnecessarily intimate is increasingly normative. We fail to talk about what is important, and talk incessantly about the things that are not.

For those who may be looking for additional resources for parents and/or teachers, please check out the following:

FROM my November 14, 2015 Post “Parenting in the Wake of the Paris Terrorist Attacks”As our thoughts have been drawn today to France and to Paris in the wake of the tragedy of the terrorist attacks yesterday, I feel a bit ill-equipped as a parent. My daughter is in sixth grade–old enough to have some understanding of the scope of the event, of the larger global context, and of the anxiety such attacks produce in the free world.

However, the graphic nature of the news reports makes me uncomfortable allowing her to watch much on TV or on through her iPhone or computer. In the advent of HD, and of uncut, live-feeds, I worry about both parenting that would allow us to let her see too much AND that would push us to let her see too little.

My instinct is to make sure that:

  • we reassure children that that they are safe.
  • what we watch and read, we watch and read together.
  • we limit exposure to media, particularly repetition of dramatic and graphic video.
  • we discuss what we watch and read without the TV or device running concurrently all the time.
  • we do things together away from media that represent a maintaining of our routines and connectedness to each other. This afternoon, we are going hiking.
  • we don’t oversimplify, minimize, or exaggerate the situation for her.
  • when we don’t know an answer to a question from our child, we don’t pretend we do. Instead we seek an answer together.

Some questions I have:

  • where can parents find appropriate resources to support our kids in moments where global uncertainty is in ascendency?
  • what signs of anxiety should we be aware of in our children in such moments?
  • where are the media sources that, while maintaining the highest standards of journalism, produce content consistently appropriate for younger audiences?

In the end, it is our loving connection to our children that provides them comfort. They need to voice their questions, worries, and opinions in a safe environment.

[I wrote about the 2005 terrorist attacks in London in a post entitled, 21 July 2005: Cambridge, King’s Cross, The British Library, Tavistock Square, The British Museum, and the Long Cab Ride“]

One thought on “The Adult’s Challenge after the Tragedy in Orlando

  1. georgelamplugh June 15, 2016 / 3:12 pm

    Thank you, Ross. As usual, you seem to be on top of things. I’m not sure what you suggest will work, but at least it’s potentially more helpful than reiterating the usual “talking points.”

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