Helping Children Form Balanced Opinions in an Unbalanced World
"Peace on Earth-Goodwill toward Men"
by Donna Duffy
You're making dinner, the kids are doing homework at the kitchen table and the six o'clock news is on in the background. Reports of endless political controversy, hatred and violence in our schools and terrorism threats on our doorstep and across the world fill the air.
How do we react to what we hear? Do we respond with anger and frustration? Do we talk with our kids about issues? How do we guide and direct them in midst of the mayhem? How do we keep them from the fear equals hate equation? Are we conveying our own prejudice and bias and sending negative messages to our kids or are we helping them learn to see the big picture and form healthy opinions of their own? Where do you stand?
Having raised my kids in what would be considered a war zone, these issues were faced head on everyday. Our kids were born in Nazareth, Israel and we lived in an Arabic neighborhood there. Bus bombings and terror attacks in Israel were common place. Army trucks and soldiers were everywhere, always. Yet my kids did not sense fear from me. They knew there was conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians but they knew our family had both Jewish and Arabic friends. My children watched me welcome our neighbors into our home everyday. They watched as I leaned into my Arabic neighbors to learn their language and live in their culture.
After 9/11 we knew that tensions were even greater between America and the Middle East. Yet our kids knew that the men who hurt our country and people did not represent the people they lived among in a place they knew as home.
How did we keep our children from taking sides in such a hot topic world issue as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How did we keep from losing perspective and becoming polarized?
It wasn't easy because our hearts would break at times to see such outward displays of unbridled hatred and violence. Yet we made a decision early on to not take a side-to help our kids understand that there are always two sides to every story.
Here are a few ways that have helped me cope with guiding my children through difficult news and circumstances:
• Help your children understand that there are good and bad people in every culture, everywhere-including America.
• Help them understand that "bad" people represent the minority and for the number of people who are hateful and hurtful there are many more who are helpful.
• Help them understand the hurts and issues on both sides.
• Even if you have strong religious convictions about an issue-do your best to convey care and concern for others even those with whom you disagree.
• Be honest about your own struggle to make sense of things. It will help them learn that it's a process. It will help them sort through their feelings and begin to shape and form their own opinions.
• As we learn more, we understand more. Help them to keep open and to keep thinking and learning.
We can not underestimate the impact we have on our children as we embrace or reject the people and issues around us. Our fears can so easily become their fears. We need to remember that we are raising citizens of the world. Our children are the future. What kind of legacy do we want to leave for them? How will they remember our responses to world issues and controversies?
Kids are sharp--so don't pretend that things aren't that bad-they are worse than we think they are or even know. But we can help kids rise above to a place of assurance in values we hold dear-faith and family, kindness and compassion. We can offer hope and a better future for our children by helping them develop and hone their potential and positive influence on the world around them. As scary as the world may seem at times, we need to help our children to understand that "it is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness." It is better to be a bridge builder than a wall builder and most importantly, that they see it lived out in our lives everyday. "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."
Article reprinted from Delmarva Youth Magazine