Boston, Rehtaeh and Sergeant Desjourdy

By: Pam Dillon

Do you talk about news at your dinner table? At mine, everything’s part of the conversation.  My kids are older, so terrorism, sexual assault, bullying, politics, religion, high-profile court cases and the latest headlines are sometimes hashed out. It’s often a (more or less) no-holds barred discussion – with the dog flopped in her favourite spot under the table by the youngest, hoping for a tasty miracle from above.

We can do that. They’re at that age. But it doesn’t mean adult-sized youth aren’t impressionable or confused or anxious or angry at the seeming hypocrisy of the modern world. They’re still kids. Time spent together around the dinner table serves up teachable moments and reassurance.

These days, a lot of parents – especially those of younger children – are wondering what to say.  How do you explain to your kids why bombs went off at the Boston Marathon? Wasn’t it just four months ago that we were struggling to explain how 20 first-graders and six adults could be killed at school in Newton, Connecticut? Unfortunately, the realities of modern life necessitate a lot of talking and consolation. Parenting expert Alyson Schafer offers some helpful advice here. Weekly, often daily at my house, we talk about the latest issues in ways I hope will help my kids be decent, empathetic adults.

About the Boston bombings:
The youngest expresses disgust at how anyone can do such a thing and how the media can exploit tragedy. (He is not fond of so-called experts used for news bites or the manufacture of “news” to fill space: “We think we might have a suspect who might be somehow related” to the event.) Nonetheless, this sharing of feelings and opinions brings relief.

About Rehtaeh Parsons:
The teen squirms.  There is a hint of a need to hold the victim responsible. “It’s simple. Don’t go there,” he asserts of her decision to hang out with boys and drink. “What if it was your friend or your friend’s sister who was intoxicated?” the teen is asked. “What if it was you? How would you feel? Wouldn’t you want and expect people to help you, not hurt you?”

We talk about the bystander effect, personal accountability and the meaning of consent. We talk about crime: sexual assault, production and distribution of child pornography. We still have a lot more talking to do.

About Ottawa Police Sergeant Steven Desjourdy:
The case of the local police officer is still a matter of discussion here, as is the ongoing court case of Christy Nastis. We talk about justice and judgment and decision-making.
I tell my kids about the time years ago I delivered a drunk, belligerent young woman to the front steps of police headquarters. She was a stranger to me and she had destroyed a holiday party and someone’s home. She had also smashed the front window of the car I was driving. I point out to them it was illegal for me to drive a car with a smashed window. I tell them I made an error in judgment by driving the person away from the residence and to the police. I should have called 911.
I tell them when I arrived that night, the police – there were several of them – asked me if I would consider taking her home with me to sleep it off. After all, it was the holiday season, and would she really want to spend a night in a jail cell? I told the police no.

I tell my kids each day we make choices for which we are accountable. We make mistakes. Hopefully they cause no harm. But always we have the opportunity to learn, to do better and to ask ourselves how our actions will affect others. No matter what, I tell them, we have the opportunity to be decent.

What does your family talk about?


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