The Night of Hope after the Day of Carnage

June 15, 2016
 / 
Leslie Dixon
 / 

Tony with ribbon and pride flagLast weekend I was out of touch with the media until Monday morning. In some ways it was a nice relief before reality set in.

Once I heard about the shooting in Orlando and the subsequent information about the shooter I decided to write a blog about “How to Stop the Madness.” I was halfway through, and I was writing with a sense of urgency due to the hurt and anger surrounding not only the shooting but also the way it followed the situation with the young man attending Stanford who assaulted an unconscious young woman into the national news.

But something Monday night changed the course of my blog: I watched the Tonys, which I had taped.

I immediately noticed several things. One that the room was a sea of diversity, and even though they were dressed in their finest and there to honor their peers, they didn’t for a minute forget what had happened that day. Especially since many in the audience could directly relate to the community affected. Many Tony winners found heart-warming ways to honor the memories of those who had perished earlier in the day.

The beauty of the experience was not only in the diversity of the audience, but that even the plays being honored spanned race, gender and age. The way the entire evening was handled in no way diminished the horrible situation in Orlando.

After watching, I made the conscious decision not to focus my blog on doom and gloom, but on hope. Moving into the future we can be defined as a society that lives in fear, which in the long run becomes destructive, or we can take a good, hard look at what can be done to heal.

As an educator and child advocate I know that one of the most powerful ways to make a change is through our children. They really are the future, and the process of nurturing them for that role needs to begin early.

Parents need some guidelines on how to talk to their kids about uncomfortable topics, like violence in the news, to lay a solid foundation for a successful future. Here are two things you can do right, and do right now:

First and foremost, parents need to get over their own fears about the tough topics our society is currently facing. If parents aren’t willing to actually sit their children down and have open and honest conversations about the things they see in the news, they’ll likely have their understanding shaped by their peers or social media. (Where do you want your children getting their information from?)

In response to something like the Orlando incident, it’s important that children’s fears about their safety are discussed and listened to without judgment or “fixing.” Remember, your child (ages 10 – 25) has a very immature brain, and they’re not processing things like this the same way an adult would.

Often times parents will be reticent to initiate these conversations due to:

  • age of children
  • inability to answer or handle questions their children might ask
  • their own fears about issues
  • total discomfort with these topics
  • believing their children will resist listening to them

These are all viable concerns, and I’m sure there are others. Nevertheless, in reality these conversations are a necessity due to the information your children can access through social media.

For many parents it’s difficult to find a place and time to start an uncomfortable conversation. Here are some suggestions:

  • While you’re driving your child to and from sports or activities
  • Make a date with your child (include their favorite dessert)
  • Unplug and have a family dinner with topics for discussion
  • Family Meetings one a month: topic, appreciation, listening skills and developing critical thinking skills (dessert served)
  • Take a course or attend a lecture
  • Sit down with significant other and have an open honest conversation
  • Take a hard look at your own issues
  • Get informed about current youth issues

The situation in Orlando is important to address, due to all the publicity it’s receiving. Parents should probably begin conversations about it by asking if and what their children have already heard and get a sense of what might be going through their heads. If they have access to electronic devices or friends who do, then it’s important to monitor exactly what information they’re receiving and in what context. Don’t be put off by your child saying, “It’s nothing,” or, “I know what it’s all about, and I’m okay.”

Once you’ve established what they are hearing and what impact it might be having on them, it’s important to impress upon them that what occurred in Orlando is NOT okay—there is nothing “okay” about the situation—and WHY it’s not okay. This conversation should cover issues such as intolerance and how to deal appropriately with rage and anger. It’s also important to establish a connection with your children about any shocking news event so they know they have a safe place to go to with any future questions and concerns.

One thing I say in all of my classes is if you don’t take the information we’ve covered and get proactive, nothing will change. Get proactive, do something starting today, because tomorrow might be too late.

One of the honorees at the Tonys was Frank Langela. Instead of reading off all of the people he was thankful to he said: “When something bad happens we have three choices. We can let it define us, we can let it destroy us or we can let it strengthen us.”

Take the time to talk with your children about current issues, not only to help strengthen them, but also to create a strong connection so that in the future no topic will be too unconformable to discuss.

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