Louis Armstrong sang, “What a Wonderful World." Louis CK has said, “Life is full of horrible mistakes.” True stories, both. As adults, we understand that this is the paradox of human existence, but as parents we work hard to hide the worst of humanity from our kids.
For instance, in an episode of Louis CK's Louie titled “Sleepover,” from season five, Louis is put on the spot by his young daughter Lily, who asks “What is raped?” after overhearing her older sister say that word. Louie responds by muttering something about how it’s a bad, bad, “financial” thing. It’s such an absurd answer, but seriously, what do you tell an elementary school kid about rape? Plus, it’s kind of brilliant because the word “financial” is one of those boring grown-up words that pretty much shuts down any follow-up questions from children.
But it brings to light a subject that most parents deal with, which is balancing keeping our kids’ innocence intact with giving them enough information to be aware of some of the dangers in the world. For now, my feeling is that if our thoughts shape our reality, then in a sense, while children don’t know about the horrors of the world, they get to live (temporarily) in a better reality.
As a kid, my biggest fears were getting in a car that would explode when the driver cranked the ignition, Michael Myers, getting stuck in quicksand and being kidnapped. All of those fears were due to things I saw on television, including the Adam Walsh story, which my six-year-old self watched unfold on the news back in 1981.
Fortunately one of the best things going now for parents is internet TV, because it means mindful choices vs. the force-feeding of never-ending news snippets that channel surfing kids may run across on regular or cable TV. I’m not ready for them to know that people walk into schools and movie theaters and open fire.
A couple of years ago I even stopped listening to Democracy Now in the car when my kids are with me, because every other sentence had to do with beheadings, killings of unarmed black men, or suicide bombers, and I didn’t want to explain any of it; not that there are any reasonable explanations. Still, it’s inevitable that they’ll have to join the rest of us one day in the knowledge that these things happen and no one has figured out how to make it stop.
And it sucks.
The vicious and violent things we see in the news don’t yet exist for them, and from what I can tell, it frees my kids up to focus their thoughts on things like their dream job at Legoland, scoring Popsicles, and wondering how the Easter Bunny gets into the house. You know, just a few of the wonderful things in the world.