talking to our kids about Paris: because we have to

screenshotMy second-grader found out about what happened in Paris because I messed up: I left the TV on in my bedroom last Sunday while I took a shower. Five minutes later, I come out with towel-turbaned hair to find her sitting there watching the cable news churn. “Mostly it sounds like ‘blah-blah’ to me,” Maggie said, “but Mommy. What happened in Paris?”

I was really hoping not to need to have that discussion with her– or with my middle-schoolers either.Wasn’t that better and easier for both of us? What happened was scary, and bad, and I had no explanation.Wasn’t it the prerogative of childhood to not have to know about that sort of evil?

But it was too late for my second-grader, and so I kept it simple: some bad guys had some bombs in Paris and hurt some people. But the bad guys are dead now. (Cue the remote clicking the television off.)

I’ve been more careful since then. I check Twitter on my phone but kept the TV off. I turn over the newspapers on our kitchen table each morning so the scary pictures above the fold won’t be the first thing my boys see after they pour their bowls of cereal. Neither my fifth-grader nor my seventh-grader mentioned it. And (at least in their presence) neither did I.

But I forgot: my almost-teenager has a smartphone. And whether or not I like it, the wider world finds him. Last night I checked his Instagram feed (as I do, about once a week, just to confirm nothing too unsavory is happening) and saw this:

instagram final

It’s not a picture he took. Even the emojis were probably cut and pasted from someone else; they’re really not his style. But my son knew, or thought he knew, what had happened.

“It was like my whole Instagram feed,” he explained while I asked him. “Everyone was talking about it.”

He asked some questions. I answered them as best I could, which mostly meant my saying, “There are no easy answers.”

He seemed okay with it. He plugged his phone into the charger and headed up to bed. Then, almost as an afterthought, he turned around and asked the question I was dreading:

“Mom? Do you think it could happen here?”

What was I supposed to say? It already has, and thank God you are too young to remember?

Or That’s why I had second thoughts about getting off the subway at Times Square today?  

Or Yes, and God, I’m so worried?

What I actually said: “I really hope not. But we need to keep our eyes open. And we need to pray.”

It was only after that not-so-satisfactory conversation that I read Time Magazine’s advice on the matter. Psychologist Paul Coleman says that with older kids, at least, parents should be proactive:

Ask them if they’ve heard about the attacks and what they think. The goal is to not assume your child is okay because it would make you—the parent—more at ease to believe that is so.

Ouch, Dr. Coleman. You have my number. I’m scared. I’m not at ease. I don’t want to be the grownup here. But that’s my job.

Have you talked to your kids about Paris yet? Did it help?

If you haven’t seen this video yet of a father and son discussing the attacks on live Parisian TV, drop everything and watch. I wish I was half so wise and brave as this father, Angel Le, who tells his small child: “They might have guns, but we have flowers.” 

image above by Jerome Isaac Rousseau, who captioned the video in English.