The dramatic manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects is playing out on TV stations and websites
—a difficult scene to comprehend as an adult. Imagine how difficult this is for children and teenagers.
Sadly, it’s not just the tragedy in Boston this week; our nation has faced an overabundance of tragic and threatening news recently, from the Texas fertilizer plant explosion
to the emotional gun law debate and the tragic events it evokes, such as the Colorado shootings, the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, etc.
As parents, we probably try to shield our young children from such horrific news—for them, Nickelodeon and Disney Channel are far more entertaining than CNN or Fox News.
However, for our tweens and teens, these are stories we can’t hide. They hear about it through social media, and they talk about it at school. This was evidenced when my eighth-grader said: “Some of my friends at school think the North Koreans bombed Boston, but I don’t think that’s true. Do you?”
Our kids process things differently from the way we do, and there is a lot of tragic news to digest. I think we, as parents, can follow basic PR tips when addressing such issues with our children:
Know your audience.
Determine how much your child can handle—based not on age but on overall emotional maturity. How much do they understand? How will they be affected?
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
Knowing that you’ll probably face questions, don’t just wing it. Think through the issues, and have a basic plan in terms of how you’ll address them. How much detail will you provide? How will you present it in a way that’s understandable, but not worrisome?
Control the message.
If you don’t speak for yourself, the media will always find somebody else to speak for you (especially in a crisis). Social media is a powerful influence in our children’s lives. Shared articles, tweets, and posts infiltrate their minds and play a role in defining their view of the world. Don’t allow them to get their news and analysis of the state of our union solely from Facebook and Twitter. Be proactive, and engage them in conversation. Ask whether they have questions. Learn what they know, and help them process everything—in your own words.
Never put something you know to be untrue in a public communication.
Be honest. This doesn’t mean you have to tell them everything that’s on your mind, including your fears and concerns. Just ensure that what you do share is truthful. Children take the lead from their parents (whether they’ll admit it or not). Give them enough detail so they can process what they hear with a basic understanding and an ability to form their own opinions—not that of their “friends” or those they “follow.”
There’s only so much they can handle (or that they care to hear). Make your point, tell them as much as they need to know, then let them ask questions. Adults are often passionate about what’s going on around us, but this isn’t the forum for venting or getting on our soapbox.
Laura Kane is managing director at JZMcBride and Associates, a public relations and marketing firm in Cincinnati.