How to Talk to Your Student about Tragedy, Death, and Cultural Issues
These are all conversations that as parents we will unfortunately find ourselves having with our children at some point. As a parent of a 2 year old and a second on the way, I'm blessed to have several years before I have to answer questions such as, "Why do bad things happen?" or "Why do bad things happen to good people?" and "Why doesn't God stop tragedies like Orlando, Sandy Hook, or San Bernardino?"
So how do we answer these questions as parents, but most importantly followers of Christ? It's no easy task and our first instinct is to come up with some theologically profound statement that may draw conclusions from the Book of Job or something in line with Romans 6:23, "Well the Bible says, 'For the wages of sin is death...' so it comes back to our sin..." and then we fumble around with our words to make it through the conversation so we can pull out our phones and Google the answer ourselves.
These are questions we want to be able to answer for our kids. The key to it all is starting the conversation. 7th to 12th grade students are at a point in their lives where they begin to notice more of what's going on in the world and they likely see headlines pop up on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. So how do we navigate these conversations?
1. It starts with prayer. Any time I know I'm going to have any type of conversation that might navigate through an edgy or troublesome topic, I take some time to pray beforehand. The reality is I don't have all the answers so I'll spend time in prayer - for the student or adult I'm going to speak and myself. I pray for the student to be in a place where their heart is open to wisdom and I pray for myself to be in a place where my mouth opens with wisdom.
2. Remain patient, relaxed, and honest. If it's a topic that your student is passionate about, they may get agitated or upset during the conversation. Sometimes our students are passionate about a subject or they may seem angry likely because they're either upset either for a lack of understanding or more likely, they're afraid. It could be something that hits close to home - like a school shooting - or something that affected a friend. The best thing we can do is to remain patient and relaxed. Tension has the potential to leave your child feeling like they can't ask these questions in the future. The best thing we can do is to ensure your student that home is still a safe place and that you will do all within your power to keep them safe.
3. Be relevant. It's very possible that your student has spent more time reading up on the topic than you have. A smart phone is the world's greatest resource, and within 10 clicks, your student can have all of the information on anything they want. It's important for us as parents to remain up-to-date on what's going on in the news and media so that if and when our student comes and asks, we are prepared with an answer.
4. Point them to the Cross. The MOST important task for us as parents is "to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4) Sometimes we don't have the answers, and it's okay to say, "I don't really know, but let's find out together." But the key is that we direct our children to the Bible and to seek God. The truth is, we may never have the answer to the question, "Why do bad things happen?" BUT we can always use those moments as opportunities to direct our children to look towards Christ.
At the end of the worst things we encounter, we still have a God who will protect us. Right after Psalm 22 comes one of David's most well-known Psalms - Psalm 23 - which I'll end with for you to reflect upon:
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
- Psalm 23:1-4 (NIV