Let me get this out of the way: The shooting at the Aurora Century 16 Theater is a terrible, senseless tragedy, but we are now in the spin zone where everyone is extracting the meaning they want from what happened, or what they think happened. It’s going to be an interesting and occasionally infuriating next few weeks as we learn more about the shooter, the victims and the back story of what transpired and why. I weep for the innocent victims but don’t think that our society is fundamentally broken and will not respond with fear or anxiety, nor will I convey such emotions to my children.
With that said, I knew this morning when I first heard the news at about 6am that somehow I was going to need to let them know something about the situation: it’s inevitable that they’re going to hear about it, and frankly they deserve to have some basic understanding of the world around them, positive and negative. Still, they’re currently in a tense relationship with the darker side and my youngest, K- (8), has become very fearful as of late and is no longer able to fall asleep in her room after watching an episode of the TV show Psych. To me as it’s an amusing police procedural with a twist: the main character is hyper-observant but pretends he’s psychic. But to a little one? Freaky/scary. And no, it wasn’t my idea that she watch the show.
There’s another factor in that I’m a professional film critic — see DaveOnFilm if you didn’t know — and spend a lot of time in movie theaters, though I don’t believe I’ve ever been to the Aurora Century 16 Theater. But were my children going to fear for my life every time I went to see a movie?
What I’ve found is that if I share things in a factual manner, with relatively minimal details, and end by assuring them that we’re not in risk or danger, then things tend to breeze past without too much difficulty. With that in mind, here’s what I said:
“Just wanted to let you guys know that last night at a late showing of the new Batman movie some nutjob went into the theater and shot a bunch of people. The police have him in custody, which is good. It’s sad, it’s stupid, and it’s terrible, and I know we’ll hear about it today, so I wanted you to know.”
They asked how many people were killed and I calmly reported “last I heard, 12. And a bunch of people in hospital.”
And that was it.
My two cents: if you as an adult are calm about the situation, then it’s much less likely that your children are going to get upset, afraid or freaked out. If you’re losing it or just can’t hold it together or want to go hide in the basement for a few hours, I suggest you do that before you share a sanitized snippet of what happened with the little ones.
The challenge now will be to avoid the inevitable muck that we’re all going to wade through from every medium imaginable, ranging from well meaning friends on Facebook to news outlets, companies and schools to older family members who have no idea that children don’t process information – particularly frightening information – the same way we adults do. But we’re ready. I think.
Am I doing it the right way? Do I have a bunch of psychologists to quote here? No, I don’t. Just my own instinct. But if I’m not afraid, my children aren’t likely to be afraid. Seems straightforward to me.