When it hits you that you can’t control everything your kids are told

Thinking about it in the cold light of day, it’s really obvious that a parent has far less than full control over what their children are told, and yet some days there’s a particular sinking realisation of that truth.

Today was a pretty crappy day for our eldest daughter.

We’d chosen not to actively tell our 6- and 8-year-old girls about the tragic events in Manchester last Monday evening. Naturally, we were prepared to address the issue – providing comfort and a modicum of age-appropriate explanation of the world we live in – should they raise the subject.

But we certainly didn’t sit them down on Tuesday and lay it all out on the table – so to speak – and then expect them to ‘deal with it’.

Today, the junior school decided to do it instead.

Apparently they had a whole school assembly in which at least one of the teachers talked at length, and emotionally at that, about all that had happened.

Just to add to the mix, the kids’ youth group tonight showed a fairly harrowing video about some of the dreadful things happening in Syria right now.

Add into the mix the usual ‘everyday’ things which upset children – like their sibling going on a play date tomorrow night which she isn’t invited to – and we have an upset little girl.

And so it hit me.

We’ve done our best to filter the things our kids hear. Not keeping secrets, just allowing them to maintain some of their innocence. Kids are often expected to ‘grow up’ too quickly these days, and they don’t need to know about every horrific or upsetting thing which happens, particularly if it doesn’t directly affect them.

I’m sure my parents did the same kind of thing. It just seems a little bit harder these days. Most people are constantly connected to the Internet, and 24/7 news, and “opinions” from experts, celebrities and the everyman – and then seem to need to share that with everyone both face-to-face and social media.

We avoid letting our children watch the grown-up news (occasionally they’ve seen BBC Newsround) and they don’t generally have access to Internet news sites (except the time one of the schools appears to have messed up and allowed a video of the 2-year-old boy killed by an alligator to be shown.)

I don’t expect the school to avoid every subject that occurs, and it’s an unenviable task knowing what they should share, and what they shouldn’t. Once you have 100+ children of varying ages to consider, it becomes impossible to know which kids will ‘handle’ it and which won’t.

Again, though, it comes down to communication. Parents are still the best placed to understand their kids, and what’s appropriate for them.

While schools do (and have to) seek permission for a number of things – such as sex education and religious observances – they are not always as forthcoming with more impromptu occasions. For potentially upsetting information, that needs to change.

And then, of course, there’s peer communication. This is the hardest to control, and can potentially be the most destructive.

Young kids in particular often get the wrong end of the stick. They hear snippets of things that have happened and, mixed with a dose of fear, then start spreading weird, scary stories to all their friends.

In this case, as with every other, I – the parent – am the one who generally picks up the pieces, provides comfort, support, reassurance, truthful, appropriate counsel to my children.

Kids are always going to hear stuff. It’s vital toto be prepared for both the expected, and the often far bigger group of unexpected, questions and situations.