As a mother of three grown children and a 15 year old, I still find myself wanting to shield and protect them from the bad things that exist in our world. Crime and violence, racial injustice, the loss of family members – all things that I pray feverishly to protect my babies from.
As a preschool founder and director, I now have hundreds of children that I would love to keep away from all things negative or harmful. Their innocence I would give anything to protect, but sometimes they hear about things and see things, and have questions that I struggle to answer.
I remember when my children were little, I could protect them from the world a little easier. Today, with social media, that is much more complicated. Today, children have access to so much more. Sometimes, they will come to us, little hearts and little spirits, wanting to know, “Why?”
It is in those moments that we have to make a decision. We cannot build a fortress or keep our kids in a bubble for the rest of their lives. At some point, we must let go and release them into a world that is not so safe. Not so just. To properly prepare them, we can’t always paint a pretty picture. When tragedy or bad things hit home, or strike us when we are least expect it, we have to learn to deal with the pain and the conversations. We can’t be afraid to teach our children about things that can hurt them and things that are wrong and things that are just plain outright ugly.
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Let’s begin with the tragedies that took place recently, the vicious gang beating of a 14-year-old child mistakenly identified and dragged out of a store in the Bronx. Stabbed to death. Or the brutal murder of the young girl traveling with her sister at the BART train station in Oakland. Their murders are a pain that hit every mother in the heart with a punch so deep. Most of us will never forget Junior Guzman-Ortiz or Nia Wilson. Their stories were all over the news, they shook our world, and your children may have asked you to explain what happened to them.
How do we explain it? My advice – answer their questions. Be honest and forthcoming. Take a moment, sit them down and talk it through. Teach them about gangs, and racism, in these moments. Their lives will be full of questionable moments, and it will be important for them to know, starting at a young age, that you will give them a better understanding of the world.
We must communicate with our little ones as soon as they are conceived in the womb. We must begin to talk and educate them, and when they are born, we must continue to teach and educate them about things that will affect their lives. In life, they will lose. Bad things will happen. Their neighborhoods will sometimes feel unsafe and racism will sometimes show itself. And there is a way to explain the hard things so that it empowers them. Children are much smarter than we think. Show them at an early age how to deal with emotions that can be confusing to them. And also introduce them to the people who are fighting for their futures, every day—the real heroes.
We can’t protect our children from the world. But we can teach them about it, age-appropriately. They can’t un-see the things that are scary, hard or unjust. But they can see the truth in us. They too, can call for #JusticeforJunior and #NiaWilson, and after that, a better world.