It’s a strange time to be watching the news and having to explain it to our older children who encounter the news whether we want them to or not. Consider some of the big news stories that have made huge headlines in the past few weeks:
Thousands of Americans have set up tent cities in U.S. communities nationwide -- outgrowths of the Occupy Wall Street movement  -- protesting the widening gap between the earnings of the rich (“the 1 percent”) and the not-rich (“the 99 percent”), the persistent lack of jobs and the overall feeling of betrayal experienced by twentysomethings who are saddled with college debt but are unable to find gainful employment.
Some of the protests have been peaceful. Others have become violent with police cracking down on the Occupiers, as they did recently in Oakland  with tear gas and “flash-bang grenades,” as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, making it look like a scene from Greece’s recent austerity protests, or the Middle East where protests, both peaceful and violent, have been thriving since the spring.
Just as footage of the Oakland skirmishes was dominating the news, a new study  released by the Congressional Budget Office made things look even bleaker. It found that over the past 30 years, the top 1 percent of U.S. wage earners have seen their incomes increase by 275 percent, while those in the middle - 60 percent of U.S. workers - only saw their incomes increase by 40 percent over that same time period, the CBO said.
This dovetailed nicely with the New York Magazine’s recent cover story  depicting unemployed twentysomethings - the very people who comprise a large proportion of the Occupy groups - as living in a “post-hope” America with writer Noreen Malone lamenting, “This is not just a rotten moment to be young. It’s a putrid, stinking, several-months-old-stringy-goat-meat moment to be young.” It’s rainbows and unicorns out there, huh?
In the meantime, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was found and killed under murky circumstances as bloody, gory, disturbing photos and videos of him - both dead and alive - have been so widely circulated that it was almost impossible for kids who are paying any attention at all, to miss. (Luckily I was able to keep my 10-year-old from seeing the images.)
And while there was good news as President Barack Obama announced that 39,000 U.S. troops will be home by Christmas after nearly a decade of war in Iraq - which cost the nation an estimated $1 trillion - there are still tens of thousands of U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan. Just days before Obama’s announcement, the president of Afghanistan, a key U.S. ally in the region, said in an interview  that if there was an armed conflict between Pakistan and the United States, Afghanistan’s government would side with the Pakistanis. Pakistan, it should be noted, has been accused by U.S. officials of “providing sanctuary to militant groups launching attacks [on American troops] in Afghanistan,” the Associated Press reported. Very ominous indeed.
To cap off all this misery, the American people are just plain discontented and grumpy with the status quo in our country. A New York Times/CBS poll  found that Americans now deeply distrust government with a majority of respondents agreeing that the Occupy folks reflect “the views of most Americans” and 74 percent asserting that the nation is on the wrong track.
Taking all of that into account, where does that leave parents of kids old enough to understand what’s going on as we usher them through their childhood? Should we pretend all of this isn’t happening in order to preserve their innocence, or should we be honest with them because they’re inevitably going to hear about some of this stuff anyway? Should we take it upon ourselves to educate them and put our own spin on things, putting put national and world events in context?
I can only speak for myself - an admitted news junkie -- and my family which, I think, is likely atypical. I subscribe to three dead tree newspapers (yes, I know, I’m a dinosaur), still religiously watch the network newscasts (one of a shrinking number of people who do so) and usually have a news chat show (MSNBC’s Morning Joe) playing in the background in the mornings as kids are getting ready for school. News is all around my children which means that when all of the scary stories mentioned above come to their attention either via a TV news segment or because they’ve spotted a news headline or photo on one of the newspapers lying on the kitchen counter, we have a discussion about it. Or several discussions. Sometimes even vigorous debates.
While some may think it’s best to shield the doom and gloom from the kids, I think that by keeping it from children mature enough to comprehend what’s happening (older kids, not, say 5-year-olds), that will force them to try to fill in the blanks on their own as they try to piece together what appears to be vexing the adults. (A big exception being the graphic video and images of a dead or nearly-dead Gaddafi, the kids don’t need to see that.) When my husband and I are gravely discussing the paucity of jobs and the banking/mortgage crisis, we make it a point to give our kids some context lest worry that we’re talking about those things because we’re in danger of losing our house. When we talk about the uprisings in the Middle East, we explain what’s going on so they can appreciate the freedoms we have here in America, plus we want to assuage their fears that we won’t be seeing tanks rolling down our streets any time soon.
It’s a worrisome time to be an adult right now. There’s an overall unsettled feeling lingering in the air. The older kids pick up on that whether or not we opt to share the news reports with them. And as I try to make sense of the news stories I read each day, I’m trying to help my kids through it too, even when those stories aren’t happy and hopeful.But then again, they’re used to things that aren’t pretty, like the ugly arguments I get into with my 10-year-old when I tell him it’s time for bed each night or why he needs to wear a jacket when it’s 48 degrees outside.
Originally posted on ModernMom