We all want to protect our children from the horrible things in this world and for a lot of parents, ‘the news’ falls into the same category as violent video games, horror movies and sex. We feel it is our duty to make sure our children view the world through rose-tinted spectacles for as long as possible, and shielding them from the terrible things reported in the news is considered part of that.
This week, Facebook and the forums I frequent have been full of discussions about the April Jones case. This poor little girl has been missing for almost 5 days now, and no one knows where she is, despite the police having arrested a man in connection with her disappearance. Her picture is on the front page of all the newspapers, paper and online, and news reports on TV and the radio give us hourly updates. Everyone is talking about this missing child, her distraught mother and the man they suspect abducted her. It’s hard to get away from the subject.
However, people seem divided on how to talk to their children about this case. In fact many have decided not to and are just hoping their kids don’t hear about the story at all. Others are using it as an opportunity to talk to their kids about ‘stranger danger’. Of course, it depends on your individual child and whether they have a ‘radar’ for this kind of news or not. I know I don’t have a hope of keeping this kind of story from my girls.
My eldest two have come back from school talking about April, and yesterday I found DD1 stationed beside the radio on the hour, poised to catch the latest update. They are all horrified by her disappearance, but like a lot of adults following the case, they have focused on what the mother did ‘wrong’ rather than the fact that there is someone out there who wishes to harm innocent children.
‘She shouldn’t have been playing outside by herself’, said DD1 this morning, to my horror. ‘She is only a little girl’.
I asked her where she’d heard this as it wasn’t from me, but all she said was that’s what she and her friends think. However, I think they’ve got that idea from somewhere, another parent perhaps? This is the trouble; if you don’t talk to your children about what’s going on in the news, you risk them hearing it from less informed sources and drawing inappropriate conclusions.
You don’t have to tell them everything. It’s like talking to kids about sex, when they start asking it’s better to give them age appropriate information, rather than fob them off.
My daughter’s belief that the reason April was taken was because she was playing outside unsupervised, is her way of trying to make herself feel safer. This is only human nature and completely understandable but is obviously not an opinion you want your child expressing to all and sundry. So we talked about how the person that April went with may, or may not have been a stranger to April and she probably shouldn’t have gone with him unless her mother had said it was okay. But I also made it very clear that it’s not okay for people to take children away from their parents, no matter what time of the day or night they are playing outside.
My eldest is a sensible, intelligent 10 year old girl, and I was mortified when she said that she might get into a car with a family friend or neighbour if they offered her a lift somewhere. We obviously need to do a bit more work on the stranger danger message in this house.
Once they knew they were allowed to mention what had happened, the girls had lots of questions about April’s disappearance. ‘Why can’t they find her?’, ‘ Why did the man take her?’, ‘Whereabouts does April live?’ I tried to answer these as simply as possible without scaring them too much, but DD1 had already thought about the possible conclusions of this case, and Madeline McCan’s story was mentioned. The 6 year old was unaware of this case but her big sisters filled her in. Considering I’ve never really discussed Madeline with them, they’ve picked a lot up from somewhere as they cobbled together a fairly faithful account of events. Older siblings are another possible source of unpleasant news stories it seems.
DD3 listened to her older sister recounting Madeline’s story, then turned to me with big eyes and asked ‘Mummy, is it always little girls who get taken?’
I’m sure it’s not, but I had to tell her I didn’t really know.