How I Talk To My Daughter About Terrorists (and other tragedies)


Alison and I watched CNN together the night of the Boston Marathon bombings and the night the suspect was captured. I know that family therapists and child psychologists would probably warn against exposing a 12-year-old to coverage of such a horrific event (especially CNN coverage), but I’ve learned to happily ignore the parenting experts. We did spend a little time snickering over Anderson Cooper’s choice of attire on Night #2, so it wasn’t all heavy-loaded. But the event was tragic and there was no way to spin it otherwise. So I didn’t try. I answered her questions as honestly as I could while we watched the events unfold. Over the past week she has been especially concerned about the young man who was taken into custody that evening. For some reason, she has focused on his injuries and how he is healing. She asks about this regularly and I am unsure what to say, so I tell her that he is in a prison hospital and that is all I know about his physical state. Yesterday, she wondered if he was scared in the boat. Her tenderness towards this individual seems out of place.

I read a post from someone a few days after the event. Here’s an excerpt:

I don’t want to know his name. I don’t want to see his face. I don’t want to know his life’s history, his back-story, who his family is, where he went to school, or what he liked to do in his spare time. I don’t want to know what “cause”, if any, he was fighting for. I don’t want to know why he did it, or may have done it, or what possessed him to carry out his actions. I don’t want to know. Because that’s what he really wants. I’ll be damned if I’m going to give him what he wants.

I completely understand  and share in the anger that is felt toward this person. But when my daughter asks about him, I also understand where she is coming from. We have told her that every person is loved deeply by God whether they are the worst person in the world or the best person. We have quoted the verse “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and then talked honestly about how near-to-impossible it is to do. But yet, we are asked to do it. We have told her that every person matters and that grace is not out of reach for anyone.

But what about terrorists? Shouldn’t we share the sentiment of the person who cheers the death of Osama Bin Laden or the person who says “I don’t want to know his name or see his face?” That seems fair, except that we are told that God cherishes his created ones so much that he knows the number of hairs on their head. This verse rolls off the tongue when we’re telling the loveable how loved they are, but it’s a little harder to comprehend when we’re talking about the unloveable. You might say to me at this point that if a relative or dear friend died at the hands of a terrorist I would feel differently. And you might be right. But according to what God says, I wouldn’t be entitled to feel differently.

So what do I tell my daughter when she expresses concern for a terrorist who perpetrated a senseless, cold-blooded killing? Do I tell her tell that we are not supposed to care about him and that it is permissible to spew hate for those who have carried out hateful actions? Do I allow her to cheer the death of those who caused death?

Here is one thing I tell my daughter about terrorists and tragedy: There is good in the world. There is also evil in the world. And God cares deeply about our response to both. 

We’ll never be able to love like God loves, but when tragedy is in front of us we have an opportunity to practice that kind of love if we will choose it. I keep going back to the prayer Jesus uttered before he died:  Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing. It is beyond comprehension that he prayed this with his back shredded and nails in his hands and feet. I easily spout off these radically difficult verses and treat them as if they are platitudes. They are not. These are the very actions that show the world what God looks like. Love. Grace. Forgiveness. And they are hard to live out, which is why most of us don’t do it. Does my daughter’s response of tenderness toward the perpetrator reflect the character of God? I can only answer with this:

“But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:44-45. That’s what Jesus said, among many other mind-blowing things, when he was sitting on the side of a mountain talking to a crowd of people. So I’m going with that, even if most of the time I find it very difficult to do. When I talk to my daughter about terrorists and the tragedy in the world, I can find no better words to use than those of Jesus. Because I’m pretty sure he was talking to us as well.

In Praise of Dumb Phones

I’ve been thinking about cell phones over the past week. Specifically, smart phones. For 12 year olds. It all started when our youngest and I were sitting at the dining room table working on jewelry to help raise money for the school in Africa. Suddenly, her nose got red and I saw tears in her eyes. She hates to cry in front of me, so she leaned her head back to try to keep the tears from sliding down her cheeks.

Me: Are you crying?

12 Year Old: Some kids at school are making fun of me.

(I thought I could guess where this conversation was headed, but I was wrong).

I put down what I was working on and looked in her eyes.

Me: Honey, why are other kids making fun of you?

12 Year Old: Because I don’t have a cell phone or an iPad. (The irony of this conversation and what we were working on at that moment was not lost on me.)

Me: Excuse me?

12 Year Old: It makes me sad.

Me: They’re making fun of you?

12 Year Old: And it’s annoying.

I shook my head because, honestly, I was confused.

Me: You actually have friends who are making fun of you because you don’t have a cell phone or an iPad?

I realized that I was a few steps behind in this conversation because tears were now streaming down her face and I was still trying to wrap my mind around what she had told me. When I was in sixth grade I was also made fun of at school, but it was because I wore gaucho pants with red Converse tennis shoes almost every day. Although that sounds comical, it hurt terribly when I realized kids were laughing behind my back, and so I don’t ever ignore the “making fun of me” conversation. But really, this one made no sense. Here was my beautiful, friendly, social, stylish daughter telling me that she was being teased because she didn’t own a cell phone or an iPad. Apparently kids bring these devices to school and flash them around like, oh, I don’t know…status symbols. In sixth grade.

Forgive me if I seem behind the times. We thought we were indulging our older kids when they were 13 and 14 and we bought a flip phone (with no texting capability) for them to share. And they weren’t allowed to take it to school. What has happened in nine years? So now, my kid is out of step because she isn’t carrying around a device on which she can access the Internet 24 hours a day. I know I sound like my mother, but I don’t care. After empathizing with my daughter’s feelings, I firmly explained to her why she was not going to get a smart phone for a few years. In the course of our conversation about all the “whys”, I told her this: Grownups have enough trouble behaving themselves on social media. I don’t expect that adolescent kids do any better.

There is something about social media sites that makes some people feel like they can say things and express opinions that should never be uttered in a face-to-face conversation. I’ve watched people slam other people in the comments on Facebook with an ugliness that makes me cringe. And I’ve seen exchanges (arguments) escalate until the original person who posted had to step in and ask that everyone please stop the conversation because they had not intended such ugliness to be splattered all over their page. This really isn’t intended to be a rant on Facebook behavior (although some might argue it’s time), but instead, a plea.

I have been a parent long enough to know better than to question, judge, or hand out opinions on anyone else’s parenting. I didn’t birth or adopt your kid, so it’s not my place to get into the business of how you raise your kid. But here is what I would ask: If you choose to get your 12-year-old a smart phone or a nifty tablet device, kindly inform your child that not all children have one. Let your child know that there are cruel parents out there depriving their kids of these necessities, and that instead of making fun of these poor souls, they should treat them nicely. Ask your child not to wave their electronics in the deprived children’s faces and then inquire of them why they do not own cool things. These deprived children are not going to take up the parent’s rally cry for no smart phones or tablets. Although my daughter seemed pretty okay with our logical reasons why she will not get a smart phone or tablet for a few years, I doubt she gathered her school friends around the next day and gave an eloquent, stirring speech about cyber-bullying and bad behavior on Facebook. I’m sure she didn’t inform them how much it costs for the data plan or that her parents would like to wait until she’s older before they have to endure her face buried in a screen at the dinner table every evening. She’s probably still slinking around the playground and hallways, avoiding the question, “Why don’t you have one of these?”

I’m chained to my smart phone, as is my husband and our oldest daughter. And it will be that way from now on because it appears these devices aren’t going anywhere. We can’t live without them, so why rush our children into this bondage as well? So I’m letting it be known that I will happily trot to the phone store this fall when our daughter starts middle school and buy her the dumbest phone on the market. I’m gathering she’ll be one of the very few at her school brandishing one of these terrible sliders or flips, so I’m preparing her for this and hoping the middle-schoolers don’t give her too much grief. Parents, if our kids end up in school together, thanks for giving your child a heads-up that not all kids with dumb phones are dumb. Just deprived.