I’m a journalist. I’m torn on how to talk bad news with kids.
A conversation with a mom in a nail salon opened my eyes to how awful it must be to be a parent in a bad news world.
Today while I was getting a pedicure a woman and her daughter came in and were seated next to me.
I paid them little attention until I heard the mom say to the daughter, who looked to be around eight, “It’s a good thing we came in when we did. You love watching the news.”
CBS Evening News had just started.
My journalist ears perked up. I will take any avenue to talk about the news.
But before I could figure out how to insert myself into this conversation that was not yet a conversation, the mom screeched at her daughter to look away from the television. All three TVs were echoing the lead story: the apparent suicide bombing that killed at least 22 and injured several more at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
Rather frantically the mom shoved a phone at the girl as a distraction.
“Why?” the girl asked, annoyed like I probably would have been.
“Because we already talked about this.”
Did I still want to talk about how I too loved watching the news as a kid? This mom was now desperately trying to avoid the news.
I felt a little peeved. Quietly I thought to myself how absurd it is to block your child from facts, from accurate information, especially in a world of “alternative facts.”
When the show went to commercial I looked over at the little girl and smiled. I turned back to admire my bright pink toes, cleared my throat and said:
“I liked watching the news too. Now I’m a journalist.”
There was an awkward pause from the mom, because she knew exactly why I decided to speak. Unprompted she said she didn’t want her daughter to be scared. She admitted to me she was relieved Scott Pelley didn’t utter the words “Ariana Grande concert” during the report.
It wasn’t the attack that the mom was avoiding, it was that it had happened at a concert of a singer her daughter knew and probably admired.
I didn’t say anything. I nodded. I was doing my best to come off as understanding and not as somebody who was defending their line of work at any cost. I think she thought I was offended, but I knew why she was doing what she was doing.
I didn’t know what else to say because I didn’t know how to feel. Having an interest in current events at a young age certainly contributed to me becoming a journalist. I saw these people on TV and I wanted to do those things — ask questions and explain the day.
I can’t remember a time my parents bribing me to look away.
“It’s so funny,” I finally said. “How interests you have that young end up shaping your life path.”
The mom agreed, telling me how she was a bossy kid in preschool. She loved it and now she’s a preschool teacher.
I don’t have kids. At 24, most of the time I don’t feel much more than a kid myself. I don’t think I even ever want to have kids, so it struck me interesting that I dwelled so much on this interaction.
Before today I don’t think I would have said I’d distract any potential children of mine from bad news. I remember sitting on my parents’ bed at eight years old watching the World Trade Center topple over, people jumping from the windows.
I did not understand the world until that day. My dad didn’t shuffle me away from the TV. I remember him trying to explain it to me. And all I could gather was that there were really awful people that lived in this world.
When the show went to commercial I looked over at the little girl and smiled. I turned back to admire my bright pink toes, cleared my throat and said: “I liked watching the news too. Now I’m a journalist.”
Watching the mom’s plea to her daughter to literally do anything else but watch bloodied teenagers run from an explosion at a concert made me think of how my dad did the opposite.
Maybe my parents — a police officer and an operating room nurse — were just better at explaining tragedy, I thought, sitting in my vibrating pedicure chair.
But I know they did their share of shielding my brother and I from things we had no business knowing about as children. Every day I’d ask my dad if he caught bad guys. “Not today,” he’d almost always say.
Maybe he didn’t catch bad guys every day, but I know during his career he saw things you don’t tell your elementary school-aged kids about. The same goes for my mom.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to tell your daughter that some man strapped explosives to himself at her favorite singer’s concert. Of course that’s terrifying.
I’m glad my parents didn’t try to protect my innocent view of the world. I’m glad they did their best to explain what terrorism is to a third grader. Had they done it differently I probably wouldn’t be writing this, or maybe anything at all.
But what a tragic world it is that parents even have to think through how they approach talking about tragedy and bad news with their children. I don’t envy them, and after today I’m lost on how filtered I’d be as a parent.