Sink or swim.

When my children were younger, I was very careful about preventing them from seeing the nightly (or morning) news broadcasts. As they grew into readers, I had to be careful about newspapers and magazines also (damn literacy). My feeling was, and remains, that childhood is often confusing and scary enough without having them subjected to the “if it bleeds it leads” newscasts, or the alarmist headlines above the folds or on the covers.  (I was a master of this in the post-9/11 world. September 11th threw me for such a loop personally that I worked really hard to keep my oldest, then in Kindergarten, sheltered from the news.)

But the fact is, as much of a superhero as I am, I couldn’t hold back the tide and they’d see stories (or read things) and be upset by what they saw (or read). By way of reassuring them that all was okay in their world, I trotted out an old chestnut that I had heard somewhere along the line years ago: that the fact that something is labeled as “news” means that, by definition, it’s out of the ordinary or exceptional in some way. You’re not going to read, “School bus drove 42 kids to school safely,” because it’s not news, it’s the norm. “Mother of 4 makes dinner and puts kids to bed,” is a not a headline because there’s nothing exceptional about that. It’s the school bus accidents, or adults killing children in their care, that makes news: it’s the horrifying exceptions to the normal day to day of life in America.

But lately what’s in the news is forcing me to revisit the old chestnut. There are so many stories about hate, intolerance, violence against women, against children, against men, about homophobia, about prejudice in a multitude of forms, about depravity, about bullying…Never mind holding back a tide. I’d have to hold back a tsunami to try to avoid exposing my children to it all.

Then I think, I have no business holding it *all* back. I do my now-tweenie and teen children no service by keeping this kind of news from them. In fact, if I don’t allow them to be exposed to it in my own manner, with my own mediation, I as a parent am failing. I’m failing to provide them with the tools to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, and how they want to operate in this world where roommates violate privacy and humiliate each other, where politicians discuss their opponents supposed “prowess” or extra-marital affairs instead of issues, where teens in a well-to-do NYC suburb had an unauthorized house party where two students ended up in the hospital after a brawl — and the community response is silence about who was involved because, apparently, parents are concerned that their wonderful children won’t get into a good college with this kind of reprimand on their transcripts. (I may have to use that term, “parents,” loosely.)

On the same page today in the New York Times, there is an article about the teen party mentioned above, about the NY Republican gubernatorial candidate’s statements on the validity of a homosexuality, and — and this is the one that has me despairing at the moment — “Bronx Attack Ultimatum: Be Hit with a Bat, or a Pipe.” After being assaulted by a gang of 9 thugs on the suspicion that he was gay, a 17 year old boy was given a choice: be beaten with a metal pipe or a bat. He chose a bat, which was the only “good” thing about the incident because the bat turned out to be plastic. One of the accused assailants’ mothers says her son, who is 17 also, “goes to school and is doing everything good. He has a baby on the way. I raised a good boy.”

Isn’t that what you or I would say about our children, and our role in their upbringing? “I raised a good girl,” “I raised a good boy.” But clearly, some parents fail. Their good kids are not. They live-stream intimate moments that are not their own in an attempt to humiliate. They break rules about partying in a house where there are no adults, and then don’t take responsibility for their actions (and are not held responsible). They lure other kids to isolated locations to beat them and torture them because the other kids have been branded as different.

This is what I hope my children learn, no matter what they read or hear: that there is more good than bad in this country, that more people live here than not, that peace in our country is the more prevalent state than unrest. Is this true the world over? I don’t know. You can debate that — I don’t want to. But what I the attitude that I hope my kids embrace is this: the world is good, people are good, I (meaning they) are good. (You know, “God don’t make no junk.”)

So I’m realizing I can’t hold back the tide. I also realize it would be irresponsible to, because if or when the tide reaches our doorstep or my children’s ankles, I want to make sure they have the survival skills to keep their heads above water.

And if I can teach them how to pull others into their life raft to survive the tide, *then* I think I will talk about success or failure as a parent.

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21 Responses to “Sink or swim.”

  1. gigi Says:

    Well said! I think it’s hard to not fall into the trap of trying to shelter our kids from the ugliness in the world. Yet we have to let them see some of it, to encourage discussion and to hopefully inspire (or scare) them into good behavior.

    Great post.
    gigi recently posted..Using LIJIT To Learn What Your Readers Want

    Alyson says:

    There’s been great dialog over at ScaryMommy and other places about similar themes, but when that mother of the accused said she raised a good boy….it pushed me to write.

    This parenting gig is really hard sometimes.
    Thanks for reading!

  2. joann mannix Says:

    It is tough to find that balance. When I grew up my father encouraged us to know our current events. He would often strike up a conversation at the dinner table, involving some issue of the day, usually a controversial one. And if you weren’t up on your facts, you couldn’t participate in the conversation. And we all wanted to participate in the conversation.

    Today’s news is different, more salacious than newsworthy and it’s hard to point your kids in the right direction when it comes to what is going on in the world.

    This week has been a sad one for humanity. How shameful that this new generation, the one I had great hopes for in terms of enlightenment, has shown an ugly side to their hate. I teach my kids kindness above everything else. And this bullying and bashing has just been so disheartening.
    joann mannix recently posted..Awake My Soul

    Alyson says:

    Seems like “current events” equates to politics, which means intolerance and stupidity, or some other celebrity BS, or (most recently) bullying incidences.

    We have to have conversation about all of the intolerance and the bullying stuff (sorry, Snooki, not you) but it is very *mature* content to work through with an 8, 10, 11 and 14-yr old.

  3. Cecelia Winesap Says:

    This is so scary to me also. My little man is only 11 months old and I shudder to think about what the world is going to be like when he’s hitting his teen years.
    Cecelia Winesap recently posted..Assmunch Monday- Could I Have Some Cash

    Alyson says:

    Sometimes I think we should all pull a Harrison Ford Mosquito Coast deal and move to an uninhabited island somewhere and just be.
    But chances are really good I’d lose my mind, so that’d be bad. Princeton it is.

  4. Lisa @ Grandma's Briefs Says:

    Such horrific stories are nearly impossible to avoid once kids can read, use the computer or work the remote on their own. BUT they provide opportunities for lessons on good, bad, right, wrong … as well as lessons in empathy. The hard part is knowing how much is too much when sharing with the kids. I used to tell my teen daughters when there were dangerous happenings in the neighborhood, just so they’d be alert, and they now (as adults) tell me I used to scare the hell out of them.

    Thought-provoking post.
    Lisa @ Grandma’s Briefs recently posted..ARE the kids all right

    Alyson says:

    It’s clear to me that my children have way less to worry about from the so-called “stranger danger” than from classmate danger — bullying behaviors, intolerance, or just plain mean.

    Sometimes I get very tired thinking of all the parenting work to be done….

  5. liz Says:

    I have, and still do, keep the news off and avoid “adult” discussions around Kate. She’s still young, and that will need to change once she’s older like your kids, but I understand the feeling.
    liz recently posted..13 Things I Believe

    Alyson says:

    when Isabel was in Kindergarten, 9/11 occurred on her first day of school. So although I did a really good job of keeping all of that from her, I remember months later she saw a photo of the towers and asked about it. We told her that a plane hit the buildings and they fell down….no more than that. And that’s all she knew for *years* after the event….But my youngest, now 8 — seems like he’s know the “true” story since he was born. Well, as true as “some bad men flew planes into the buildings.” Simple, and true, and a lot left unsaid.

    Ugly truths are hard to manage….

  6. Alexandra Says:

    This is so difficult to decide. So much depends on your child, his type, his sensitivity, his ability to bounce back.

    I have one hearty child, a middle child who is extremely sensitive and worried about the state of the world, and one too young to know much else.

    I treat each one according to what I know about him.

    But, they do have to be brought up to care about what goes on in the world. I see too much apathy from my peers.
    Alexandra recently posted..Acceptance Of The Ordinary

    Alyson says:

    Yuck, apathy. I warn my children against apathy.

    And I must tell you, I bookmarked your most recent post, the one with the anonymous writer/genius/poet. I will recall it on my computer on the bad days….

  7. Sherri Says:

    This is an awesome, thoughtful post. I spent many years trying to shelter both of mine from all that was bad in the paper, and we didn’t watch much TV when they were awake. Enter literacy (damn!) and the morning comics and it all went downhill. My oldest was in 1st grade on 9/11; my youngest had her first day at preschool that day. So yeah, I am right there with you.

    I waver between wanting them to understand the world and all it entails and wanting them to live in a fantasy world for just a few more years.
    Sherri recently posted..How-To Book- Not available in stores

  8. Sheena Says:

    I had to work through to many “current events” discussed on the school bus by older kids. Now I just try and censor the bs that they consider news and try and find current events to discuss. You know natural disasters (not snookie) and fun headlines they can learn something valuable from.

    However, my father believes politics is important to learn from an early age, there is no censoring him. So they know all about political parties, and what they stand for, etc. Never really has caused a problem since both sets of grandparents believe the same way.
    Sheena recently posted..aging gracefrully part 2

  9. Yuliya Says:

    Great post, thank you. I had a very different experience growing up in a country where the news and the history books were controlled by the government. So imagine my shock upon learning certain truths about my beloved “grandpa Lenin” for example. Honestly now that I’m a parent I believe some censorship (from my kids) is OK.
    Yuliya recently posted..Refuel

    Alyson says:

    Wow, you make a great point. Having had 8 years of Russian and a 10 week sojourn in Leningrad Back in The Day, I should have remembered my astonishment at how the tide actually *could* get held back!

    I agree with you — it’s totally our jobs to “edit” for our children until they have the tools to manage the world appropriately….And it’s our job, as parents, to determine when exactly that is….

  10. MommaKiss Says:

    i’m writing about my hopes and fears for my boys re: bullying. It’ll post tomorrow. I’ve been thinking about it since I read jodi piccoult’s Nineteen Minutes. On my mind…not sure how to proceed, but it’s on my mind…
    MommaKiss recently posted..The Versatile Post

  11. The Flying Chalupa Says:

    This is an important post – I just tweeted it. Yes, when the time is right, it is up to us as parents to teach our children about certain realities, what is right and wrong, and how to make good decisions. So much of what you mentioned just disgusts me and I’m happy I have a few years before I must dip into the manure pile.

    Alyson says:

    Thanks for the tweet; I thank you not for the increased traffic but in the hopes that we, all of us growing these adults, will collectively get our acts together so this behavior remains “news” and not “the norm.”

  12. Booyah's Momma Says:

    My daughter has been obsessed with Haiti and earthquakes since the beginning of the year. I’ve realized there’s definitely a balance between protecting your kids and giving them enough information to answer their questions and help them rationalize what goes on in the world. And that balance is constantly shifting. You seem to be doing a pretty good job of finding that with your kids.
    Booyah’s Momma recently posted..Anyone know how to reach Anonymous

    Alyson says:

    Oh, the photos and such coming out of Haiti, particularly of the children, were really heartbreaking and I can see how that would require quite a bit of “work” to help it all make sense for a child!

    But in a way I feel like the “natural” disasters are the easier ones to manage: at least in the initial parts of the problem it’s not one human’s inhumanity to another…

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