"Who's the Unabomber? Who's Timothy McVeigh?"
As the news related to the shootings in Arizona unfolded this week, my children's curiosity multiplied their questions.
My son read a newspaper article about Jared Loughner's court appearance with his attorney, who defended Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski. Later, he asked for context.
The relevant discussion that followed showed me that young people pay attention to current events and want help digesting the references and implications surrounding that event.
So, what do we say? How do we talk about news events with them?
Keep it age appropriate. Gear the conversation not only to the age level but also to the emotional and intellectual maturity of the young person. What does he or she want to know? Allow his or her curiosity to lead the discussion.
Give a history lesson. Young people need to learn about past news events to understand current ones. That builds their cultural literacy. We don't have to carry the front page or a history textbook with us to tell what we remembered from the past or even just to describe where we were when something happened. Say "I don't know," when you don't, and point them to trusted and credible sources of information.
Connect the cause and effect. Understanding consequences of actions aids development in young people. However, make sure to focus on the available facts, avoiding speculation and blame. This will help them to analyze situations without being caught in heated opinions.
Follow their cues. Most young people will let you know when they've heard enough. My daughter certainly did when our family conversation lingered too long on the death penalty. We ended there. Even though our kids moved on to lighter topics, they remembered. At bedtime our son prayed for comfort for the victims.
Ready or not, young people pay attention to the world around them. We can make resources and opportunities available to them to access and then process the news.