While watching the news last week my teenage daughter made a comment about Donald Trump having his finger on the nuclear button. It hit me that if this was on her mind then she must be feeling quite pre-occupied with the state of the world and she’s picked up on the thread of fear running through the news commentary.
Teaching each next generation
When I was 12 we had a year-long topic in humanities about the nuclear holocaust. We learned about how people suffer and die in a nuclear blast, about radiation poisoning, about nuclear bunkers, the four-minute warning and the theories about how the Cold War could escalate. We went on a school trip to see a play set in a nuclear war. The teachers did an excellent job of bringing the topic alive. I struggled to sleep and I had nightmares. Girls argued in the playground about who they would let into their nuclear bunker. Boys drew pictures of people with their faces being ripped off in nuclear winds.
This dwelling on horror was sanctioned by the authority of the adults around us. I understand that each generation wants to teach the next to think carefully about how they will seek to run the world when they’re adults, but be gentle. Let kids be kids; use a degree of care.
Children in the Second World War
My mum was a 9-year old child at the outbreak of the Second World War. For her, the world contained a real life bogey-man who was actually trying to kill her – Adolf Hitler. To this day, the sight of his face gives her chills. Before the war, children were very much kept in the dark about anything to do with people dying. Current affairs were not suitable topics for children either. But in the war the news was unavoidable; they were living it.
In war-time my Mum was told that she need not be scared and she accepted this. The air-raids were a nuisance, but the children believed they were safe in the shelters. No-one mentioned that a direct hit would do them in. Her Dad took her to the doorstep and showed her the glow of Swansea burning in the distance, which surprised her because before the war he would not have talked about anything that was “the news” in front of her. She experienced a mix of reality and reassurance from the adults around her, and it is this balance that seems important.
Recent news about Trump
I asked my teen and tween-age daughters all about the election of Donald Trump. I know they are aware of the political turmoil, but did it cause them any concern? I’ve never sat them down and given them a lecture on my opinions! What had they picked up over the last few months?
Both girls are a bit worried, particularly about the prospect of war. The 11 year-old says “I thought Donald Trump was an idiot, he didn’t know anything; he just has money. I thought he would win, but I was cross that he did. He’s full of himself. He has so many idiotic ideas that he will get the USA into a war. He’ll do that because it’s the quickest way to show he’s made America great again. I’m scared Theresa May will argue with him and there will be a war with America.”
I am surprised that she’s thought it through in this much detail and concluded such alarming things.
The 15 year-old had a different take on it. She said “He’s said sexist things, he was recorded saying them. I was shocked the Americans still liked him after that. It worries me that someone like that could become the US President because then maybe someone like that could become Prime Minister. I’m suspicious of most Americans now. As a nation they are not what I thought they were. They don’t have the morals I thought they had. America has gone from looking so great to looking so strange”.
Balance reality with reassurance
We must remember that children absorb plenty of reality from our abundant news channels. It is up to parents and teachers to provide an appropriate degree of reassurance, otherwise there is no balance. Children don’t analyse the news like adults, it’s easy to forget.
For example, when I was about 13 the British government allowed the USA to use British RAF air bases to send jets to bomb Libya. You’ve probably forgotten this brief incident from the 1980s because it was over so quickly. But after hearing one news commentator talk about it, I was convinced that we were about to go to war and that Libya would send bomber jets right back at us. I went to school literally quivering with fear that day. I was faint with anxiety. My reaction was completely out of proportion.
The views of my older daughter are difficult to counter. She needs to remember that only about half the USA voted for Trump, and as she didn’t like Clinton either she will be relieved to know that many Americans didn’t like the choice they were given. We’re planning on visiting family in the USA soon so I hope my girls can look forward to it and find the positives.
Have you really got to the bottom of what your children think of current affairs?
Further current affairs reading – The Dark Side of Light Entertainment