The other day I asked a friend if she watched the news last night. She told me “no”, and then went on to explain that, with two little children at home, she almost never watches the news on TV. She worried that what they would see would be too scary or the information presented not appropriate for their young ears to hear. I couldn’t help but smile. It’s refreshing to see a parent spare their young ones the angst and horror that is so often our daily news. Earlier this same day I was speaking with a colleague who marveled at how much information parents give their children. As we prepared to watch the new president take his oath of office, several little ones mentioned that they thought Donald Trump was a mean man and they were afraid of him. A few others told us that he was “not their mommy or daddy’s president”. What does that mean? If I am having a hard time understanding this kind of comment how the heck is a five-year-old supposed to make sense of it? I thought my colleague did a tremendous job with this touchy subject by pointing out our new president’s grandchildren. She explained that he was not only the new president but that he was also someone’s grandpa. This is something the children could relate to. Her explanation humanized a man that so many have demonized.
This weekend I watched a previously recorded live feed online. It showed several children and adults in her backyard burning a homemade paper Donald Trump head. The children mocked him and his hair, set the figure on fire and then the whole bunch of them made an attempt to sing some patriotic songs. Incidentally, I think it’s ironic to note they didn’t know the words to most of the songs…
What on earth is going on? What happened to basic parenting? I totally understand bringing your child to a rally or a march for something you believe in. I’ve brought my children along to rallies and walks supporting different causes like breast cancer awareness and public education. These fun and important activities fostered a sense of community and unity. I’ve also held my children and reassured them as we unexpectedly got caught up in a anti-police demonstration in NYC (we happened to be on 5th avenue right outside Trump Tower of all places). When my young girls were scared because people were shouting and making angry gestures at the police, my husband and I explained that we were lucky to live in a country where people were free to express how they feel openly. We smiled gratefully at the police officers who helped us to pass quickly thought the mayhem and went on to tell our children that the brave officers were keeping everyone safe that day…even the angry protestors.
However, watching a ten-year-old on national television setting a fire in protest to the inauguration of Donald Trump and then shouting out, “Screw our president” should make everyone stop cold in their tracks. This. Is. Wrong. Where are that boy’s parents? We wonder why children today are rude, disrespectful and not able to cope with disappointment and yet we watch (some of us in horror, others with a prideful smirk) as parents, not only model this behavior, but condone it. I would argue that it’s even worse and more complicated than it seems. When parents allow their children to be exposed to, or worse…participate, in this kind of behavior, they undermine that child’s ability to feel safe within a world that often feels out of control. On September 11th, despite my own fear and worry, I had to put my feelings aside and reassure my children that we were OK. My husband and I saved our worried conversations for a time after the children were fast asleep. In the days that followed, we focused on all the American flags that flew everywhere and humanitarian efforts to help. Instead of fear or hate we chose to have them focus on our unity and strength. As a parent, YOU HAVE A CHOICE. You can CHOOSE to focus on all that is WRONG with the world or you can CHOOSE to focus on all that is RIGHT. Choose carefully. Be thoughtful. Think beyond yourself. Remember that little children are not able to understand things in a way that an adult can. They haven’t had the same experiences. They don’t have the developmental maturity. Don’t be the person who murders their innocence in the name of political correctness.
Children shouldn’t be weighed down by adult burdens. Period. Your child shouldn’t know if your checkbook balance is at zero and worry about how you will make your next mortgage payment. It’s not their job to cheer you up or cheer you on when you acting like an idiot. Little people should not have to go to sleep worried about what will happen tomorrow. It’s your job as their parent to let them know that everything will be OK. Reassure them that even though today looks bleak, tomorrow is a fresh opportunity to make a new start. Youngers simply can’t process such heavy burdens and we need to make sure they don’t have to try. That ten-year-old pyromaniac should still believe in Santa Claus. His parents should be teaching him about how the peaceful transfer of power works in the USA. If they don’t like the person in power, they should be telling him that he can grow up to be the change needed. When we resort to burning effigies and spouting things like, “We can do this because we live in the United States of America” to our children, you have rationalized the wrong and are missing the tremendous opportunity to teach peace, tolerance and acceptance. When you encourage your children to say disrespectful things about the leader of the free world publicly, what is going to stop them from telling their teacher, police officer (or even you) off someday when the moment suits them? At the very least tell them it is OK to criticize him for his proposed ideas but not the unfortunate hair on his head. There is no tolerance in this kind of behavior and it is a slippery slope until that same child is making fun of a classmate with lesser means or a stranger with a disability for the same intolerant rationale.
When scary things happen it is your job as a parent, or better yet, simply as an adult to remember that you are a model for our children. What you do, how you act and the words you choose to use will be watched and mimicked by the young citizens around you. Be mindful. Sometimes you have to swallow your own pride, put on a good show and reassure youngsters that everything will be OK in the end. Demonstrating respect to a person you don’t particularly like so that your child can see how an adult should behave will save your child a lot of grief with their future employer, in-law or judge. Be inspirational not hysterical. Be their protector not their enabler. Point out the wrong but don’t meet it with your own. Our children are our future. They are our biggest investment and greatest gifts. They have to grow up and make sense of the world that we have created for them. Don’t squander such a precious gift and important responsibility. If you do, I fear you may not like the ultimate outcome down the road.