The facts are still emerging about exactly what happened with the explosion at the Ariana Grande concert on May 22 in Manchester, England, which left at least 19 dead and many more injured. But millions of parents are already facing the sickening question: “How do I talk to my kids about this?” Ariana’s fan base is mostly tweens and teens, so this tragedy, like many others that target young people, seems particularly heartless. A concert should be fun and exciting, not a scene of terror and heartbreak. As parents, we want to give our children a safe world. The wrenching reality is that there’s no such thing as complete safety. So what can we tell our kids?
1) Share the facts
If your child is a fan, it will be easier for your child to hear the news from you than from peers or social media. Get information from reliable news sources and share general facts, as they emerge. Emphasize that Ariana was not hurt.
You may also need to check in with your child by asking, “What have you heard?” Kids talk, and sometimes they mishear or misunderstand news events. Asking what your child has heard gives you the opportunity to correct misinformation and perhaps allay unnecessary fears.
2) Make plans to limit exposure to vivid and upsetting media
With young children, it’s easy to limit their media exposure. With tweens and teens, who have access to cell phones, tablets, and laptops, you’ll need to talk with them and let them take part in deciding what forms of media they can handle about this event. Printed information is less vivid than pictures, which are less vivid than video. Older kids may also need to consider how much news monitoring they want to do regarding this story. Watching nonstop replays of tragedy isn’t healthy for anyone. Explain to your child that it isn’t disloyal or uncaring to step away from the news at some points. It’s smart self-care.
3) Talk about the difference between fear and reasonable caution
When tragedy strikes unexpectedly, it’s easy to jump to conclusion that no one is ever safe, anywhere, and that violence is everywhere, all the time. Help your child understand that the vast majority of concert-goers do not experience violence. Living in a state of constant fear is far too limiting.
It may help to use the example of driving in a car. Yes, it’s possible that you might get into an accident, but it’s not likely. Do some math with your child to prove this. How many car trips do you take a day on average? How many days have you driven in your lifetime? How many accidents have you been in? So, while the probability of getting into an accident isn’t zero, it’s definitely not a frequent occurrence.
Explain to your child that if you lived governed by fear, you’d give up driving anywhere. The cost of doing that is too high. Instead, you choose to exercise reasonable caution. You obey traffic signals, stay alert to the traffic around you, and don’t text and drive, but you drive to get where you want to go.
4) Seek out examples of goodness
As we hear more about the tragedy, we’ll also learn more about acts of kindness in response to the tragedy. Already, there are accounts of people near the Manchester arena opening their homes to concert-goers. There will be more stories of people helping others to get out, caring for the injured, and relaying information to frightened family members. Tell your child these stories to show that there’s more good than evil in the world.
5) Find ways to take positive action
Most of us feel better when we can do something about a problem. Help your child figure out some accessible ways to take action to fight violence in our world. Possibilities include: becoming involved in a school anti-bullying program, raising money for local emergency workers, or, if your family is religious, praying for the victims and survivors of this tragedy.
So how do you talk to your kids about tragedies like this?