This has been a rather brutal week. Between some personal family changes that have required me to have some very emotionally difficult conversations with people I love dearly, a certain teenlet officially becoming a teenager, some acute health problems (including trips to Urgent Care and the ER), and then little babies being senselessly killed in Connecticut - my heart is very heavy. I'm wavering between being unable to breathe and weeping uncontrollably.
It's not hard to imagine that the teenlet picks up on this. Despite his outward demeanor of not caring (a very carefully constructed defense mechanism of his), the teenlet has a very sensitive heart. During an emotionally-charged scene in a movie, I look over at him through my tears and see his eyes brimming, too. He still gets weepy when you bring up the death of our cat - that happened in 2008. Certain songs have been known to bring him to full emotional meltdown. I fear his reaction the first time he reads Old Yeller, Watership Down, or Where the Red Fern Grows - so I haven't suggested those books to him.
But he was watching the news on Friday. He loves watching the news each morning, so when I got up and he was laying on the couch with Good Morning America on the television, I didn't really think much about it. But then I began to hear the story unfolding, and I was horrified. And my little boy (ahem, teenager) was sitting there, taking it all in. He didn't say a word. At 9am when the news was over, he turned the television off and got himself dressed, and then went to work on his school work. He took a test. He wrote a paper. He listened to online lectures. He didn't say a word about Connecticut.
But he hugged me a lot that day. And the next. And the next.
Talking to a bright and emotionally sensitive child about incomprehensible tragedy can be a challenge. They need reassurance, but not empty promises of safety and security that they know you can't keep. They need to know why - but so do most of us and we really never figure it out. They feel a deep need to DO something, and a sense of helplessness that the problems are so big.
The best you can do is to ask them questions - what do you think about this? How does this make you feel? What is going on in your heart? What would you do? Help them plan how they would react if a friend confided in them that they had a plan to hurt someone. Help them decide ways they can help - can they reach out to someone who gets bullied at school? Can they raise money at their school to help the families of the victims? Can they identify someone who might need a little extra help, and offer it?
Your child will benefit most from being able to talk through all the emotions they are feeling. I know it's hard when you are feeling overwhelmed as well - but in my experience, it helps me, too, to talk to the teenlet about these things. It helps me to process as we are processing together. And it gives me hope that this little part of the next generation sees value in life (even though he is a teenage boy and obsessed with guns and weapons of war).
And give them lots of hugs.