Talking to your children about tragedies they may see on television

As a former television anchor and reporter, it was heart-wrenching to watch the recent tragic murders of a Virginia television reporter and her cameraman play out on live television.

What made it even more disturbing was that both were allegedly killed at the hands of a former colleague – a fellow television journalist. The victims weren’t doing anything wrong. They were doing their job, an easy live report talking about tourism. There was nothing controversial, nothing dangerous. They weren’t reporting on the frontlines of a war-torn nation, or even in some dangerous inner-city neighborhood that may be peppered with drug dealers and gangs. Instead, police say the victims were ambushed by a colleague seeking vendetta.

As an adult, you process what happened, you think about it, you feed and satisfy your curiosity with additional information, and, inevitably, you move on with your life. Living thousands of miles away from Virginia,  I only got to see the video leading up to the shootings, before it was thankfully edited. But for those viewers, including moms, dads and their children who live in the Roanoke area who were watching what appeared to be a lighthearted live report quickly turn into a double murder, I can’t imagine what must have gone through their minds.

We all know that television has changed since its inception. I’m a product of the early 1970s, and I remember even during the late 1970s and early 1980s, TV had its fair share of violent shows.

Today, the landscape has changed. The violence has become more “lifelike.” Not only are you watching Hollywood act out realistic murder scenes with advanced, computer-generated help, but with YouTube and everyone having access to digital cameras on their cellphones, we’re seeing more and more real-life violent moments play out on our handy devices.

As the shooting played out on morning television in Virginia, while moms and dads got ready for work, and their kids got ready for school, I’m sure there were a lot of kids asking what happened and why. How does a parent address these types of issues? Michael Weinberg, a senior manager in behavioral health services at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Arizona, talked about shielding our children from witnessing or hearing about tragic or violent events. Weinberg explained that there’s really no one answer on how parents can talk to children about tragic events.

“What you tell a 6-year-old would likely sound very different from what you say to a 14-year-old,”  Weinberg said. “A good place for parents to begin is by asking children questions to gauge what they know, how they may be feeling, and what they may be thinking about.”

Weinberg added that the answers to these questions will help parents hone in on where to steer the conversation. Instead of preparing a planned speech, the child’s specific concerns, thoughts, or feeling about what happened should drive the conversation, he noted.

My 12-year-old son asked about the shootings in Virginia. Since we didn’t see the live report, it was easier to explain what happened. But had it been something he saw play out on live television without preparation, I think it would have been a harder conversation. How do you tell a child, a relatively innocent person, that they’ve just witnessed the murder of two people, and that their families will never get to see them again? Of course, that challenges the child’s questions about humanity and faith in others.

As a parent, you try to shield your child from all the violence and tragedies in the world. And while we do a pretty good job of it without that much-needed “Instructions for Raising Your Child” fictitious manual, there are those moments when they will witness something that they shouldn’t have seen. There will be questions, and you will probably have to come up with some type of answer. Even though what they saw might provide an unwanted view of the harshness the world and society sometimes offers, it’s also comforting to let them know that life and the world can be beautiful, and must be cherished at every single moment.






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Talking to your children about tragedies they may see on television

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