Talking to your kids about the Las Vegas shooting

by Phillip Bethancourt, posted Tuesday, October 03, 2017 (2 months ago)

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Your kids likely woke up to news on Monday of the horrific mass shooting overnight at a country music concert in Las Vegas. In the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, conversations surrounding guns, hate and seemingly random attacks are inevitable. At school, other children may comment on the attack and even perpetuate fear and anxiety.

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How should you talk to your kids about the mass shooting in Las Vegas? There are five factors to consider when shaping how you talk with your children about a tragedy like this.

First, consider the facts.

Because children may have limited access to reliable information sources, it's commonly the case that they are uninformed or misinformed about difficult topics, especially when they unfold as breaking news. Children are also still developing the ability to effectively process complex information in limited time frames.

As you seek to provide insight for your children when tragic events occur, it's helpful to read articles from reliable sources that can enable you to be familiar with the details surrounding the shooting and the ongoing investigation. Of course, the level of detail you use when talking with your children will depend on their age, the priority of the issue in your home, and your parenting approach. Helping your child to consider the facts establishes an essential foundation for the rest of the conversation.

Second, characterize the field.

If the first factor helps your children understand what is going on, this one equips them to understand who is involved. That could include explaining the major players, such as the attacker as well as first responders and even the country music festival's attendees. For those who can understand the more complex aspects of the situation, you can explain the role of the attacker's motive and ideology when they become clearer as the investigation unfolds. Enabling our kids to understand who is involved helps to personalize the attack so that it doesn't seem like an abstract tragedy disconnected from their experience in everyday life.

One of the long-term benefits of candid discussions with your children is that tragic events like Las Vegas often provide teachable moments because of the stark expressions of good and evil, courage and cowardice, love and hate. By providing insight into the character and behavior of the main actors in the situation, parents can better equip their children to display Christ-like character in their daily lives.

Third, confront the fears.

When children encounter significant tragedy such as a mass shooting, it often induces anxiety. As a parent, you need to be the one who can anticipate and respond to doubts and questions that arise in your child's heart. It's a natural part of fallen humanity for people to respond to senseless violence with fear and anxiety. That is no less true for our children (and, often, parents) when it comes to the aftermath of a tragedy like Las Vegas.

Parents must be willing to directly address such questions as: Will it be safe to go out in large crowds? Will a shooter attack people in our town? Will my cousin who is a police officer die if he encounters an active shooter? These are a small window into the fears that may pop up in our children's hearts. Parents have the unique opportunity to shepherd our children through their fears. When you respond to them in honest and age-appropriate ways, you can signal how we follow a God we can trust, even in life's most difficult circumstances.

Fourth, coordinate the flow.

One of the most important factors parents must consider when discussing difficult topics with their children is how to coordinate the flow of conversation and information our children receive. What should they learn? When should they hear it? How should they learn it? The key to coordinating the flow of information on a sensitive subject is to be intentional. Many parents find themselves reacting to a conversation they are thrust into rather than proactively anticipating the right opportunity to engage their children on the issue.

In the case of Las Vegas, coordinating the flow of conversation and information is critical. Surrounded by a 24-hour news cycle, social media and a heightened apprehension by their peers, your children are going to be confronted by the latest developments in the tragedy. The question is: Who is going to shepherd your children through it? Will it be the talking heads on TV, the chattering peers in their class, or will it be you? As parents, we can't always pick the topics we need to engage our children on, but we can coordinate the flow of how we do it.

Fifth, contend for the faith.

When difficult situations arise, it creates amazing opportunities for parents to reflect on the implications of the Gospel for even the most horrific tragedies in our culture. Don't miss the opportunity to help your kids learn how to apply the Gospel to everyday life. You can help them learn more about how God is at work in the world when you faithfully equip them to process the difficult effects of living in a fallen world.

There are many insights children can gain through candid conversations about what happened in Las Vegas. As you explain the senseless violence and evil perpetuated by the attacker, you can enlighten them to how the Bible shapes our response to evil in a Romans 13 world. As you walk them through why a man is willing to take a bullet to protect his wife, you can show them how the Bible has much to say about loving others in a John 15:13 way. Perhaps most importantly, as you address the hate of the attacker and engage the fears in their young hearts, you can equip your children to pray for peace in a Philippians 4:6-7 way.

Parents don't get to pick the topics that occupy the news cycle. But you do get to shape the way your children think about them if you are intentional in your efforts to have Gospel-shaped conversations with your children about the Las Vegas shooting and any other complex cultural issue.

Phillip Bethancourt is executive vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared at the commission's erlc.com website.
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