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Slices of Life: What They Don’t Know …

Is it keeping them in ignorance, or protecting their childhood?

By Lisa Gibalerio

When we were kids, my parents stressed what I would call “the basics” – play fair, work hard, get plenty of fresh air and exercise, eat well. To this, they added one more tenet: be informed about the world around you. To this end, they subscribed to both Time and Newsweek, they read the Providence Journal daily, and, seven nights a week immediately following dinner, they – and to some extent their children – watched the local news, followed by the national news.

We kids were expected to be conversant in current events. We were not shielded from the news when horrific images from the Vietnam war flashed across the screen, including death tolls and body bags. I can recall that our dinner table discussions covered a range of topics, including Nixon/Watergate, the Chavez grape boycott, the failed attempt to rescue the Iran hostages, John Anderson’s bid as an Independent in the Presidential race, John Lennon’s assassination, apartheid and AIDS.

I bring this up because, I confess, this is one area of parenting in which I have not followed in my parents’ footsteps. My kids, until recently, have been aware of only the very basics in current affairs and news stories. This is odd, I think, given that the news cycle is 24 hours long and that they have Internet access.

Was it intentional, I’ve wondered, the fact that I did not seem to pursue a “be informed about the world around you” philosophy?

I think yes, it may have been intentional, and here’s why. My kids can expect, statistically speaking, to live well into their eighties. Childhood, it follows, is a very small part of one’s life. I am no good at fractions, but 16 years out of 85 is not much in the big picture. I wanted this precious “slice of life” to be as carefree as it could possibly be.

I remember when 9/11 happened and the parents at my son’s pre-school were intensely huddled with the teachers discussing “what to tell the children.” My first – and last – instinct was to scream: “tell the children next to nothing”! My son was three at the time; why would he have needed to be briefed on this? His only concern in the days and weeks following Sept. 11, 2001 should be whether I’d let him watch two episodes of Dragon Tales or just one. Eat two cookies for dessert or three?

Childhood can be tough, without world catastrophes being introduced. Like all kids, my children have dealt with losses large and small. The small losses inflict pain enough: being excluded from a friend’s birthday party, not making a coveted sports team, getting assigned seating at school that feels intolerable. Let these be their concerns, for a few precious years anyway.

My kids are older now, so naturally, I’m less protective. There are topics they need to understand. And so, over time, we’ve discussed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Presidential elections, why we supported one candidate over another. We discuss the topical issues: marriage equality, gun control, the recent recession, Newtown, and of course, the Boston Marathon bombings.

I chatted with my 15-year-old about the drug “Molly” and used the recent news stories as a means to educate him, especially as he headed off to the two-day concert in Boston this past weekend.  But when he caught me struggling over the Somerville rape story, and asked why I was so upset, I found myself hesitating.  He’s old enough – and then some – to understand that evil exists, but I hated to bring that savage story into his world, as he hummed his marching band tunes and doodled a cartoon birthday card for his friend.

In my own childhood, it definitely worked to my advantage at school that I was fully steeped in current affairs. I was never the smartest kid in the class, but when it came to news events, I was impressively informed. But with that knowledge came worry and concern.

If I were 10 right now, I’d be anxious that our country is embarking on war with Syria. I’d worry – even a little, on the way to gymnastics practice – about the potential loss of life, about Assad’s retaliation, about how to pay for another war.

My 10-year-old doesn’t need that on her plate right now.

Childhood, after all, is fleeting.

Robin Cushman Phillips September 10, 2013 at 08:18 PM
I could not agree more!

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