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Suzanne Perez Tobias: Boston another chance to talk to kids about tragedy

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, April 17, 2013, at 10:05 p.m.

The radio was turned to the news when I picked up my son from school Monday, so I quickly offered what little information had been confirmed.

There had been two explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I told him. There were dozens of injuries and at least two deaths.

“Bombs?” Jack asked.

“They don’t know yet,” I said. “They’re still investigating. It could have been something else, like a gas line or something.”

“I bet it was a bomb.”

I looked at him and shook my head. Don’t say that, I thought. Don’t even think that, much less assume it. It could have been anything. They don’t know. We don’t know.

But we did.

We knew it wouldn’t be long before “Boston Marathon bombing” would become part of the national lexicon, the latest in our long list of deplorable tragedies:

Oklahoma City.

Columbine.

Virginia Tech.

Tucson.

Aurora.

Sandy Hook.

Jack was a baby when Sept. 11 happened. My daughter was only 31/2 and begged to play Candy Land with her grandmother that day, oblivious to the heartbreaking history being made.

Now they’re older. They read, watch and listen to the news. We talk about current events, and I try to be honest with facts and feelings.

Raised by journalists – which is not too different from “raised by wolves,” now that I think about it – my children have inherited a fascination with news along with tendencies toward skepticism, cynicism, sarcasm and macabre humor.

I wish they had just gotten my blue eyes instead.

When they were younger, I followed all the psychologists’ advice for helping children cope with tragedy:

Model calm and control. Reassure kids that they are safe. Remind them that trustworthy people are in charge. Let them know it’s OK to feel upset. Tell them the truth. Stick to the facts. Don’t embellish.

Things were tricky but also simpler then. I remember Jack as a 4-year-old, obsessed with Justice League superheroes but not quite grasping the concept of courage:

“I try to be brave,” he told me then. “But there just aren’t any bad guys in our world.”

Now he assumes the explosion was a bomb.

On the other hand, my middle- and high-schoolers, like most adolescents, are developing strong opinions about the causes of violence and a desire to do something about it. It’s interesting and encouraging to watch.

Hannah, 15, griped on a friend’s Facebook page recently about bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her sense of justice and social awareness evolves with every tragic headline, foreign or domestic.

Monday night at dinner, as we talked about the events in Boston, Jack wondered aloud if he might someday work for the CIA or FBI.

Both kids liked the idea of solving mysteries, dispensing justice, making things better, saving the world.

“I’d wear one of those suits,” Jack said, smiling and grasping at an imaginary lapel.

That’s right, I thought.

Not a cape, but better.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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