Tonight, here I am thinking about fear again. It’s all around us. Fear in society, fear on the news, fear about safety, fear about potential loss, fear about dignity. Fear has poisoned the well and sometimes it feels like the whole world is drinking in big gulps.
I see people posting all over social media about fearful kids in the wake of last week’s election. What do we tell the children? Well that’s one that makes me sit up and take notice. Fearful kids? Young kids, elementary age, are waking up afraid the morning after the election and parents are wondering what to say and I think to myself: elementary age children are not old enough to understand the complexity of what is going on in today’s politics. Elementary age children are not sophisticated enough to have a nuanced understanding of racism, bigotry, or misogyny. If elementary age children are afraid, then the adults in their lives ought to be asking themselves the question: What have we already told them?
This is not a post about politics. This is not a post about taking sides. This is a post about protecting our kids from conversations they are not ready to be a part of. This is a post about guarding our actions and words so our kids, with their childlike capabilities, are not put in the impossible position of coping with adult fears and feelings.
Fear is contagious. If our kids are fearful, chances are we need to evaluate our own coping mechanisms. Are we dealing with our own fears in ways that encourage health and mastery? Or are we expecting our children to carry the burden of uncertainty we feel too overwhelmed to hoist onto our own shoulders?
In his book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne argues persuasively that when adults include children in their adult conversations without regard to the child’s ability to process and understand, it feeds anxiety for both the parent and child. “It’s a misnomer to think that we are ‘sharing’ with our children when we include them in adult conversations about adult concerns,” he explains. “Sharing suggests an equal and mutual exchange, one that is impossible for a child to offer and unfair for an adult to expect.”
What do we tell the children about the election results? About the unrest and anger and hate on display in the public square? We probably ought to tell them less than we are inclined, for one. We all want our children to be informed and aware; we want to seize teachable moments and find a nugget of good in all the bad. But dispensing lessons to our kids about adult issues before they are mature enough to absorb them does not help them, it confuses them. It scares them.
Just a few days ago I was reminded of the powerful ways fear can tarnish our vision and skew our perspective. I had worked myself into a tizzy about what feels like the constant encroachment of technology into my children’s lives. I felt overwhelmed at the onslaught of electronic devices competing for my children’s minds and affections. It took a wise friend’s calming words and a couple days of self-reflection to recognize again that all is not lost, that no cultural norm need determine my kids’ fate, and that my hope does not rest in psychology, brain science, or any kind of best practices. My hope rests in Jesus Christ, the king who already occupies the seat of highest authority and who calls me and all of my children by name. I will not accept a sentence of fear. I will not accept it for my children.
So, then, what do we tell them?
We tell them there is hope beyond the election. We tell them what it means to love, to be kind, to accept people who are different than we are and to respect all people because they are born with dignity in their very personhood. We tell them that there is One who sits on the throne of heaven, whose reign has no end and whose victory is sure. We tell them we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ, and that the same is true for all who call on his name.
Fear is all around us and there’s no telling how long those well waters will be contaminated. But we can protect our kids from taking a drink. Our hope does not rest in an elected official, a governmental office, or a political system. Hope is found in a source that will never falter. His name is Jesus Christ.
Tell the children.