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How to Discuss Current Events: Elementary School

To be quite honest, the news these days can be downright scary. Even for adults, the nightly news and breaking headlines have the potential to shift our entire mood and sense of security. If this is the case for a grown adult, what might a child think about the current events that splash across the screen? As impossible as it may seem, there are strategies that parents can employ to help their families navigate the current climate.

For young elementary schoolers, about age 6 and under, the negative news stories have very little to offer that can benefit young, impressionable minds. For the most part, unless the story is an inspirational piece, perhaps involving people overcoming obstacles, the younger kids should be shielded from the news.

If your child happens to hear, see, or come across the news during your absence, perhaps at school or a friend’s house, be open about answering their questions. Don’t discourage or downplay any concerns they might have by shutting down the conversation or glossing over their worries.

If they have already heard some troubling news, shift the conversation to a more positive route by providing reassurance that your family is not in danger. However, if the news happens to hit close to home, talk about how to stay safe and secure. Provide them with reassuring information about how to handle different emergency situations–severe weather, fire, separation in a public place, etc.

For the young ones, especially, wrap the conversation up by shifting to a happy, cheerful topic. Perhaps you read a silly book together or watch your favorite family show. The point is to move the conversation and potential negative thoughts out and replace them with more pleasant things.

For older elementary schoolers, it is likely that they will be exposed to more information, current events, and political topics. While you cannot shield them from everything, you should be careful to consider their level of maturity and sensitivity when allowing them to watch or search certain news topics. Parents should be especially careful to limit or filter information about news or events that relate to their child’s age group. For example, school violence or teen suicide are topics that hit way too close to home for older elementary schoolers. The more they can relate to the news story, the more traumatic or frightening it can be for children.

Consider setting filters and restrictions on certain channels or websites. Be open with your children about why certain material may be inappropriate. Emphasize that this is not about distrust or a punishment in any way, but an effort to do what is best for them emotionally. Again, respect what questions they may have, but be sure to highlight the good news going on in the world around them.

Be cognizant of your own opinions, as these are likely to become your child’s opinions. The trust and reliance that a child has in their parent’s point of view is undeniable. Children truly do absorb everything around them—including the belief systems that you voice in and out of the home.

Be careful when making statements that lump groups of people together, create a divide among certain groups, or portray others in a negative light. Phrases like “they always…” or “we would never…” are sweeping generalizations that can slowly mold your child’s beliefs about entire groups of people.

By meeting your children where they are, developmentally and emotionally, and keeping the lines of communication open, you can help them navigate the news they hear and come to terms with the world around them.

Change What Your Child Thinks About Studying

For those of us not blessed with a photographic memory, study skills are essential to our ability to grasp and retain information and concepts. We often think of studying as something that students do in preparation for a test—and while this is often the case, we want to set different expectations for studying. We want young learners to recognize the study skills that benefit them the best and to discover that studying is more than just a test-prep practice.

For elementary schoolers, studying, like many other aspects of education, is a new concept. Because they are just beginning to form their understanding of how to study and why, the elementary grades offer a great opportunity to put positive studying routines into place.
Teach elementary schoolers that studying is for more than just preparing for assessments. Studying should be introduced as a regular routine for reviewing and solidifying all content, not just test topics. By viewing a studying routine as a consistent homework practice, there is less pressure put on students when it comes to studying for an exam. They will be used to the process and aware of the strategies that help them the best.

To introduce this regular homework routine, at first devote a small amount of time to the practice. Begin by reviewing the night’s completed homework assignment or material from school that day. Encourage rereading as a friendly method to get the process started. Explain to your child that rereading helps to cement information and allows him or her to memorize key details. Prompt them to mark and look up any terms or phrases that they do not recognize or remember from class. This shows them how to be active readers and take initiative if they do not know something.

A studying practice should not be made to feel like an additional homework assignment; if elementary schoolers see it as extra work, they are likely to avoid it. Use maybe 5-10 minutes of homework time to “review” important concepts from the day. Ask your child to summarize the reading material or math steps that s/he focused on during the assignment. You can also ask your child to “teach” you how to do one of the math problems that s/he practiced for homework. Encourage them to jot down any questions that they may want to ask their teacher tomorrow, or circle any concepts that they found to be confusing while practicing on their own.

Use the “peak/pit” conversation to get your elementary schooler to think critically about what s/he learned today. Ask your child to say his or her favorite and least favorite part of the school day. Then ask him or her to explain why something was especially interesting or boring. This allows them to truly reflect on new concepts that they are grasping, while providing you with some insight into their budding interests. Remember to share your own “peak/pit” with your child. This helps to demonstrate that learning is a life-long process—we adults may be through our schooling, but we haven’t stopped learning new things.

If your elementary schooler seems particularly interested in a certain topic, try to find age-appropriate magazine articles, books, or documentaries about related topics. Playing off of a child’s interests will make learning feel less like work and more like a hobby.

Developing Grit: A Guide for Parents Part II

In the first part of this “gritty” topic, we explored how a lack of grit may have significant consequences for children and teens. We left off with a powerful quote from one of today’s most gritty inspirations—J.K. Rowling. In a commencement speech at Harvard, Rowling explained,

“Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way…It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Rowling’s message reminds young people to embrace struggle for what it teaches us. Moreover, parents can provide guidance in fostering grit by encouraging more than just learning from our missteps.

How can we ensure that our children and teens develop grit?

Practice

Practice is rooted in the concept of growth mindset—this idea that, with strategic effort and drive, anyone can improve. Since grit involves the desire and drive to persevere through obstacles or setbacks, practice is a key component for developing that drive, or grit. The purpose behind practice is two-fold—students need to learn to expect that tasks, skills, and talents require practice. Children and teens should also expect to continue that level of effort by practicing, even after experiencing failure. A student with grit knows that reaching one’s goals requires much more than one lucky attempt. Look at any success story and you’ll find that the person’s success was likely built on a foundation of trial and error. To encourage grit, provide teens with examples of successful risk-takers, or those who have achieved great success after years—sometimes decades—of practice and failed attempts.

Motive

Parents can also help children build grit by discussing motives or reasons for working through challenges. Having conversations about future goals with children and teens is a solid starting point for introducing grit. Pose topics for discussion like, “What if everyone gave up on their dreams after one attempt? How many inventors, creators, performers, and athletes would our world be lacking?” Or, “If failure was not possible, what dream or goal would you strive to reach?” Parents can also provide their children with examples of their own motivation. Talk about how you have experienced your own failures or obstacles—discuss what you learned from those tough moments and how motivation outshined exasperation or defeat. In discussing the reasons for sticking with a goal, no matter the difficulty, children learn to see struggle as a necessary step in learning or growing.

Small steps  

Children and teens also need to be reminded of the fact that nothing worth achieving will come easily; success is not accomplished overnight. A common trait of people lacking grit is that they will expect to succeed on the first attempt. Moreover, a level of impatience ensues when success is not met instantaneously. Remind children that even small achievements are bringing them that much closer to their goal. Victories, no matter what they be, take time. Children should remember that even the smallest wins contribute to their larger goal—so they can absolutely celebrate the baby steps along the way. Practices such as positive self-talk and checking off small accomplishments can revitalize a discouraged learner. Parents can model this positivity by tackling their own challenges, or by stepping out of the box and participating in a new activity. We must continue to not only challenge ourselves, but welcome and embrace the challenge for what it gives us—grit.    

 

Developing Grit: A Guide for Parents

Grit, as it pertains to behavior and motivation, has been a popular buzzword in the education world as of late. Perhaps the reason that it has taken center stage is the fact that today’s adolescents are overwhelmingly lacking in grit. Merriam-Webster defines grit as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.Grit, however, is much more than sheer determination. Furthermore, grit should not be misconstrued as a trait of stubbornness. This characteristic is substantially more complex than the unwillingness to accept failure, and yet, it has a great deal to do with one’s failures. As Angela Duckworth, who’s garnered a following after her TED talk on grit, claims: grit should be defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

With such an emphasis on grit, or rather, the absence of it among today’s youth, it is an essential topic of discussion for parents. What does grit look like? What is the danger of an absence of grit? Since it is such a crucial attribute, how can we ensure that our children and teens develop grit?

A world without grit:

If we were to describe today’s young people in one word, including my own fellow millennials, our generation and those that have followed could be considered “soft.” Coddled, entitled, and sheltered also come to mind when I think about young people today. Some may not know it, but this “softness”—this inability to persevere or handle setbacks—is indicative of a lack of grit.

The unfortunate (and terrifying) truth is that many of today’s recent high school graduates, though perfectly capable applicants on paper, are abysmally ill-equipped to thrive on their own at the university level. Most likely, much of primary school was smoke and mirrors—students were given an A for effort, innumerable opportunities to reassess or resubmit assignments, and gratuitous applause. While it is important to reference the value of self-esteem, the pendulum may have swung too far in the direction of sensitivity.

Parents need to be aware of this lack of grit, because teachers, professors, and employers certainly are. What we are seeing now is that the slightest difficulty, obstacle, or discouragement renders today’s teens completely helpless—any effort or motivation that they may have had for their end goal becomes dashed by fears of failure the moment they sense anything less than perfection on the horizon. Teens are so used to unwarranted praise or the metaphorical “participation trophy” that they are incapable of picking themselves up by their bootstraps, getting back on the horse, dusting off to try again, and any other euphemism alluding to grit. We are raising the “1-and-done” generation, who would rather sell themselves short than experience a nanosecond of discomfort, failure, or rejection.

Without grit, teens become young adults that, while dutiful followers, will never risk failure for a leadership opportunity. They will choose predictable or comfortable stability over spirited, or self-determined, trailblazing every time. They will blame any setback or perceived rejection on the “powers that be” or anything outside of their control. They will consider any criticism as an attack, as opposed to an opportunity to reflect and grow with that knowledge. Students lacking grit become adults who only explore inside the box, and only play when the odds are in their favor.

One of the most “gritty” writers said it best:

“Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way…It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” J.K. Rowling

Read on to find out more about the correlation between grit and failure, as well as tips for encouraging grit at home and in school in Part II of Developing Grit: A Guide for Parents.

Self-Sufficiency: For the Middle School Ages

Self-advocacy, responsibility, and independence are life skills that are certainly called upon once children reach middle school. No longer do they have one teacher that is responsible for knowing all of their assignments for each subject, nor do they have recess to run off their excess energy. Additionally, homework, reading assignments and lockers all make for a challenging transition from elementary school to middle school.

Middle school is also the time when teachers and parents begin to expect students to have more of a handle in their own schooling—meaning that they take on the active role, while parents help more from the sidelines. That said, middle schoolers who are underperforming or struggling socially may be experiencing the ripple effect of a lack of self-sufficiency. To combat the dependence that may not have been shed during elementary school, you can still help middle schoolers build a strong foundation for self-sufficiency.

  • “My job, your job, our job” is a common strategy that teachers use when introducing class expectations in middle school. Parents, too, can take this straight from the teacher’s playbook to use at home. Very clearly explain the expectations for completing homework each night. Families can set up these expectations together so that everyone is in agreement from the get-go.
My Job (child) Your Job (parent) Our Job (child & parent)
Write down my homework for each class before leaving the classroom Provide child with agenda book or calendar for organizing assignments Keep technology out of the homework area during work time
Organize items that must be returned to school Double check that a “bring back” folder does, in fact, return to school in the backpack Track grades online
Complete all homework assignments to the best of my ability Support homework time by removing distractions and assisting when necessary Email/contact teachers if assignments, due dates, or grades are unclear

 

  • Encourage middle schoolers to clean up their own messes and tackle their own problems. If your child forgets her project on the kitchen counter, pause a moment before you speed to the school to deliver the assignment. Yes, if you don’t rush to her rescue, she will have to suffer the consequences of forgetting the assignment, but the lesson that she will learn will be invaluable. She will have to talk to the teacher, negotiate an alternative option for submission, and take responsibility by accepting the late credit.
  • How will suffering the consequences do any good? Think about this like removing the training wheels. Your child may take a spill, but they’ll never learn to ride the bike if the training wheels are always on to hold her up. She will remember this moment the next time a large assignment rolls around, and will surely double check that the project is in her backpack before she heads out the door.

  • Set high expectations while also praising effort, even in the face of failure. Self-sufficiency truly blossoms when children learn to pick themselves back up. Every time that they solve a problem, fix their errors, and give it another shot, they are developing grit and self-sufficiency. The knowledge that they can strategize and attempt challenges on their own builds confidence and self-esteem—two qualities with which many middle schoolers likely struggle.

Monitoring Grades and Assignments: Tips for Parents

The rise of technology in the classroom has undoubtedly changed the way in which assignments are structured, dispensed, completed, and graded. With many assignments being posted, completed, and assessed through a password-secured online forum, it is no wonder that parents are left scratching their heads. Though the technology provides a sense of ease for teachers and students, parents may struggle to get their hands on tangible assignments, grades, and feedback.

There are a few tips that parents can employ to help to ensure that the digital classroom is an asset, instead of an obstacle, for families.

  • Ask your child’s teacher for “guardian access” to online forums like Google Classroom. This provides parents with their own means of logging into the virtual classroom. Guardian access also allows parents to set email alerts anytime a new announcement, assignment, or grade is posted. This means that parents receive notifications in real time, as opposed to having to wait for their child to bring home the new assignment or rubric. 
  • With the rise of available classroom technology, many schools are adopting a “paperless policy” for most class documents. If tangible copies of assignments and other classwork are preferred, consider printing the documents from home and reviewing them with your child. This strategy allows parents and students the opportunity to look closely and review the assignment or project together. Printing the rubrics or assignments also allows children to have a tangible copy at home, in addition to the digitally posted document. Parents can also print the graded work from Google Classroom to review the comments and suggestions that the teacher has left. 
  • With the option to print and review teachers’ comments, suggestions, and edits, an excellent practice is for parents and children to review the feedback while simultaneously going over the rubric. This allows children to see exactly how their errors translated into the grade that they received. Not only does it provide clarity by showing that a grade is not an arbitrary score, but it allows the opportunity for students to review and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. With the prevalence of reassessments and rewrites, students can also use this review as a starting point for their second draft or attempt at the assignment. 
  • If only the grades are showing up online, and the actual assignment or test is not coming home, ask your child if the tangible paper has been returned. It is possible that the paper copy, once returned, was shoved haphazardly in a binder or locker. Consider creating a “bring home” folder of all graded work. This can be a simple pocket folder in which your child keeps any returned graded work. This way, you can collect, organize, and monitor assignments for your child until he or she is ready to take on that responsibility independently. 
  • Often times, your child’s digital classroom includes a weekly or monthly calendar with due dates, PDF copies of handouts, class notes, and other key information. Parents can either print the calendar, or create their own in tangible or digital form. Transfer or copy all of the due dates onto your parent copy of the calendar and post the monthly assignments on the refrigerator or someplace else that is accessible. This provides children and parents with a constant reminder of approaching deadlines and other important school events.

Tantrums, Tears and Tempers: Behavior is Communication

As any educator will tell you, the behavioral component of teaching young people is one of the main aspects of the career that keeps us on our toes. From one day to the next, the behaviors and emotions that emerge can be as fleeting as a passing thunderstorm. Perhaps the ultimate display of student behaviors rears its head in middle school, when students’ hormones, egos, peer groups, and emotions oscillate on a new level. On days in the classroom where it feels as though I am extinguishing fires all day long, the one saving grace is this reminder: these unkind behaviors come from somewhere specific.

Anger is a secondary emotion. For preteens and teenagers, an emotional explosion or reaction can be like a screaming teapotsuddenly, we notice the steam and hear the shrieking, but what we perhaps did not see moments before was the bubbling that quickly became a rolling boil. A child’s temperament is very much the same in that, seemingly out of nowhere, an emotion can shift. Anger, especially, is an emotion that likely began as something else. Perhaps it grew from frustration, regret, disappointment, etc. Either way, anger is more of the reaction to the initial emotion or incident. Therefore, it is important for teachers to remember that this unfavorable attitude, behavior, or demeanor is coming from somewhere specific. The student himself may not even be cognitively aware of the origin of his frustration; however, a few quick observations can help educators mediate when emotions reach a boiling point.

What was happening right before the emotional outburst? If a teacher can recall the mood of the room or situation prior to a student’s tantrum, they are more likely to pinpoint how the situation escalated. Perhaps the student had just received a low grade on a quiz for which they had thought they’d thoroughly studied. Or maybe a peer took his or her pencil without asking. Even a slight tiff can be the cause of a major meltdown in the classroom. Furthermore, ask yourself if you have noticed anything that may have triggered the student’s response. Has this student been especially moody, withdrawn, or combative lately? Have you noticed a change in her peer group or level of interaction with peers? Have you spoken to parents or noticed a change in grades or motivation? Sometimes a bad day or bad week is just simply that—but other times, the behaviors can be prolonged or escalated.

Seek to understand. Once you have provided a moment for the student to cool off, either in the hall, at the desk, or in a quiet corner of the room, approach the student from the lens of seeking to understand. Too often “What’s wrong?” is met with a non-response or further frustration on the student’s part. Instead, ask the student: “What do you need from me?” or “What can I do to help you get through this tough situation?” A question like this works two-fold—you are showing students that you recognize their emotions/feelings, while also approaching the conversation by expressing your desire to help or fix the situation. When teachers ask students how they can help the situation, it also reminds students that they are not alone in whatever it is that they’re reacting to. This simple gesture can deescalate the tears and tempers quite quickly.  

Whatever you do, do not react. It’ll sound silly, but I occasionally have to remind myself that I am the adult in the room, which means that my students are looking to me for guidance. My tone, attitude, and behavior should be the constant in the room—the one that sets the mood and expectations of the classroom environment. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a room with 35 teenagers knows that this is much easier said than done. Remember that these are children with child-like emotions and reactions. Also consider the likelihood that the tantrum has nothing to do with you or your class—instead, it could be related to any number of stressors in that child’s life that you know nothing about. However, when tempers flare, take a moment to breathe before your approach the situation—never has gasoline been known to smother a blaze.

Family Team Time

It will come as no shock to most parents that a significant amount of time per week is spent running children from point A to point B and back again. What may be shocking, however, are the actual statistics surrounding the average family’s carpooling and chauffeuring routine. Research shows that, by the time children reach adulthood, parents will have spent almost 200 days behind the wheel running their kids from place to place.

Now, as much as educators, parents, and students embrace the notion of extracurricular activities, there are alternative ways to shape interests, take part in cooperative learning, build relationships, and experience new things. Perhaps it is time to consider putting a halt to the daily grindwith family team time.

Not to spoil the concept of extracurricular activities—as a teacher, I know that extracurriculars can truly changes students’ lives—but there are also some factors to consider when it comes to the many activities that children participate in. Clubs, sports, camps, classes—all of these activities add up, both monetarily and in terms of time commitments. For families with multiple children, the desire to keep kids consistently “doing” can prove to be a costly, time-consuming, and even stressful undertaking. Family team time, substituting extracurriculars with engaging family activities, could be a great alternative to try this winter. Simply put, family team time is anything that the family does together for enjoyment. Below are options to try in place of signing up for another round of extracurricular activities this winter

  • Considering our proximity to D.C.’s many museums, theaters, and other cultural hubs, there are countless engaging options for your family to experience together this winter. Especially as the holidays approach, options will be plentiful: festivals, concerts, plays, ballets, and other performances. Consider taking in a show, visiting a museum, or simply touring the neighborhood’s Christmas lights. Plan ahead by checking Groupon and other sites for deals on attractions, discounted events and performances, and student rates. Museum visits are a great free option to explore art and history with the whole gang—not to mention, they are a great place to escape from the bitter winter weather while still stretching your legs. 
  • Afternoon matinees can prove to be a wonderfully inexpensive way to get the family together for a few hours of entertainment. Another option is to have a weekly family book club, in which every member of the family reads the same book. Once a week, make some popcorn, get comfy in the living room, and discuss the recently read chapters. Once everyone has finished the book, consider renting the movie version, as many young adult and family novels have been adapted to film. After the movie, encourage a mock-film study, in which you talk about how the movie and the book are similar or different, and which one each person preferred. Then, allow someone else to choose the next novel/movie combination. Keep the weekly book talks going until everyone has had the chance to select a novel for the family. To save money, consider checking books out at the local library or purchase used books online. For struggling readers, consider an e-book or audiobook version so that children can follow along while listening to the book aloud. 
  • Ice skating, bowling, or an afternoon at the trampoline park can provide much-needed exercise when cabin fever starts to hit in the winter months. As opposed to chauffeuring each child from activity to activity, family team time allows for one trip, to one agreed-upon activity, all together as a family. Want to stay in? Try a competitive Top Chef-inspired cooking challenge, in which each member chooses a flavorful pancake topping, unique pizza toppings, or quesadilla fillings. An impartial blind taste tester is all you need to settle the sibling rivalry or family food feud! 
  • As opposed to hustling from game, to recital, to playdate on a busy weekend, consider volunteering as a family. Clean out the toy room and closets to donate to children in need. These gestures show children that the holidays are not only about receiving, but also giving. Decide as a family to demonstrate the spirit of giving by helping out at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, book drive, etc. After volunteering, discuss each family member’s favorite moment of the day—what was the best part of volunteering? What did you learn?   

This season, take a break from the constant flurry of extracurricular activity and give your family the gift of time together.

Homework Help for Families with Several School-Aged Children: Pt. II

As we have discussed, homework time can be innately chaotic for families, especially when several children need parental guidance at once. Since we really can only be in one place at one time, it helps to have a grab bag of possible solutions for the nights when everyone needs homework help.

In addition to the tips in the previous blog, there are more tricks of the trade to help monitor and manage homework for multiple children under one roof.

Use all available downtime to your advantage. Just as we suggested utilizing alternative times for homework completion, such as a morning routine for your early risers, other downtime can and should also be utilized. For instance, elementary schoolers can squeeze in a little more study time on the commute to school. Whether in the car or on the bus, encourage them to bring multiplication/division flashcards or spelling words along for the drive. Not only does this practice provide a pocket of extra time for review, but the process also helps to boost confidence before going in for a quiz or assessment.

Use class time wisely. In addition to the car ride to and from school, encourage your children to make good use of class time. Often times, teachers will provide anywhere from 5-15 minutes at the close of the lesson for students to begin that night’s assignment. This benefits the teacher, in that she is able to gauge who may have struggled with the day’s objective, or who may have missed important directions or notes during the lesson. This is also a benefit for students, as it allows them to get a jumpstart on or even complete their homework in class. Be sure to stress that your child should be sure to focus on instruction first—homework should be completed only if and when the teacher has allowed the class to do so.

Take advantage of after school help. Another option is to encourage your child to attend after school help sessions on a weeknight. Of course, with athletics and other extracurricular obligations, this could be difficult to manage. However, there are several benefits to the after school homework organizations run by the schools. First, many children are more patient or willing when one of their teachers is providing the homework help, as opposed to a parent. Sometimes, as much as we would not like to admit it, homework becomes a losing battle of tears at the kitchen table. The teacher acts as the mediator of the work, leaving parents free of the stressful battle.

Additionally, since children will be getting help from his/her teacher at the after school work sessions, they will essentially receive additional one-on-one instruction with the teacher who knows exactly how the assignment should be completed. Finally, after school homework programs often provide transportation home via an activity bus. Therefore, the work session can serve as an extended school day, but with no inconvenience to anyone’s schedule.  

Set a few ground rules for your children when they are completing homework assignments. No matter the time of day, ensure that children and teens take a break if and when frustrations flare. Homework is stressful as is, but when the tears or tempers start, it becomes a near impossibility. Instead of insisting on working through the frustration, suggest some cool off time. Anything from 5-10 minutes can help bring down a child’s stress level and allow everyone to get back into a productive mode. Additionally, be sure to enforce time parameters for help. For instance, tell your teen that there will be no late-night, last-minute shopping sprees if he decides that he needs materials for a science project the night before it is due. Similarly, make sure they know to ask for editing or proofreading help well before the paper is to be due. This alleviates any stress from having to cram in a last-minutes work session.

Discussing Current Events with Students & Children: If, When, and How?

The unfortunate reality for children growing up right now is the prevalence of senseless tragedies. I myself, even as a grown adult, struggle time and time again to make sense of the catastrophic violence that pervades our day-to-day. For my students, I cannot fathom the panicked bewilderment and anxious uncertainties that events such as the Las Vegas attack bring to their frightened, yet curious, minds. During these formative years, how can we mediate the thin line between informing and frightening our students and children? If we decide that information is power, how do we present such heart-rending topics to young people in a way that equips them to do better for the world? Conversely, if we instead choose to shelter our innocent young people by preserving their naïveté, how can we expect to bring up the next generation to be culturally responsive and informed citizens?  

When considering conversations with young people involving tragic current events, such as this week’s Las Vegas mass shooting, adults must be extremely cautious. From the educator’s perspective, I am personally conflicted about my exact role as the adult in the classroom when it comes to conversations of a sensitive nature. Even as a middle school teacher, where my students assert themselves as “informed” or “aware” community members, I find it irresponsible of me to take on the role of informant for other people’s children.

Yes, our students are privy to infinite amounts of and avenues for any and all information, thanks in great part to the 1:1 ratio of school-aged children to smartphones. However, I firmly believe that the family (parents and guardians) know that child best. Therefore, as a teacher, my obligation begins and ends with parental consent. I can, and have, encouraged curious students to speak specifically with their parents about current events and the questions they have regarding those events. Additionally, as an English teacher, I have provided students with criteria for credible sources, smart searches, and strategies to detect bias and objectivity. But that is where my responsibility ends. This is not because I don’t want to hear their opinions or thoughts on the world’s happenings, but rather because it is not my place to open such an emotional or sensitive topic up to discussion.

Suggestions for parents regarding if, when, and how to broach these types of discussions with your children vary from family to family. Obviously, you know your children better than anyone else. Parents are also in control of the extent of info to which children are exposed. Parents are the gatekeepers of information, charged with filtering, limiting, and explaining the events that you deem appropriate for your children.

If families decide to discuss emotionally-charged current events, such as terrorism or mass acts of violence with their school-aged children, parents should consider multiple factors, including age, social and emotional maturity, and peer influence. Let your children do the talking first. Take the temperature of their background knowledge on the topic before you begin. Ask if they have heard or seen anything about the specific news story. It is likely that, if your child has a smartphone, she has some level of prior knowledge. Between social media and other communicative platforms, preteens and teenagers are presented with a deluge of news stories, photos, and videos.

Once you’ve gauged their level of prior knowledge, plan to direct the conversation with the goal to inform on a broad scope—do not necessarily delve into specific details, as details rarely serve to comfort or answer questions. A curious teen will inevitably stumble upon more details, but remind your teen to check the validity of the source before forming opinions or drawing conclusions. Furthermore, be prepared to some answer questions, while leaving other questions unanswered. Especially with unanswerable questions like “how?” it is more than okay to respond with “I don’t know” or “we may never know.” Find some security in the fact that a senseless act will never make sense—and share that important realization with your teen. Finally, encourage your teen to focus on the heroic deeds of bystanders, first responders, survivors, etc. Tragedies cannot be explained or reconciled, but the focus of the aftermath should always center on taking measures to lift up, help out, and affect change for the better. Always.