Grandma, get him (Trump) off the TV screen!
The plan was to finish the series on how to deal with “drive by haters” in the aftermath of the recent election. In fact, I had moved on to other stuff, praying that my severe bout of TFS (Trump Fatigue Sickness) had gone into remission. But suddenly an email sent me back into my TFS doldrums, a message by a black grandmother whose granddaughter’s friends are India, Asian and white:
“Terry, it was our family dinner on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. A CNN ad featuring Donald Trump lingered on the TV. Suddenly I detected a visual change, one of fear on my granddaughter’s face. She grimaced, cowered and shook her little shoulders. When I asked what was wrong she replied, ‘Grandma, get him off the TV. He’s evil and I’m scared.’ Her reaction concerned me greatly,” said grandma. “When I asked why she replied, ‘He is hurting my friends. He is going to send them away. He will hurt them.’ If this group is fearful of Trump, it is hard to imagine what Hispanic children are feeling.”
Now the truth is that I put that exchange off as isolated until two days later when another black parent, whose daughter’s friends are South Asian and, like her, Muslim, shared this eerily similar experience:
“During a sleepover, my six year old daughter and her friends stopped playing games and got up and ran out of the room terrified when Trump’s picture popped up on the TV.”
Wow, talk about a punch in the gut, a slap in the face, those stories left me reeling and disheartened by the long term impact on those and other kids.
So, what can I do, we do?
First, there’s validation and satisfaction knowing that as parents of news-traumatized kids, we’re not alone. (In fact, Google gives 5 million results for ‘my kids are being traumatized by the news about Trump.’)
We must also realize that although pre-teens probably cannot figure out on their own what the consequences of the election might be, they do pick up on things, and what they pick up can be much more terrifying than the facts actually support. That’s what I learned from Rick Brenner, a Cambridge-based writer and consultant who also shared this:
“Terry, there are two sources of these messages to pre-teens that we can control to some extent. One is our own adult-adult and adult-children communication. We must take care not to engage in these exchanges in ways that a pre-teen can misinterpret. Second, since there is communication between teens and pre-teens, we should try to mentor teens to take care not to convey disproportionate concerns to pre-teens. This second one is a tall order but these are tough times and we must find a way.”
I put forth to him for feedback the idea of parents providing personal circles – safety nets – in which news-traumatized young people can safely share their fears about what’s said or shown in the media:
“As for personal circles, if you cannot find them, make them. Bring people together to share ideas and to comfort each other. Have an expert come talk to the group one evening. Maybe one could work it through a church or community group. Sure, it is work but the alternative is ongoing kid trauma.”
In the end just being completely honest once you get them into the circle.
“Kids can amaze,” said Brenner. “They can be tough if they understand the real truth. So be honest and trust their judgment. Re-read “The Diary of Anne Frank” to remind yourself of their toughness.”
Of course, the circle must be right.
We need to be vigilant about how we as adults behave and the unintended messages we may send in our personal circles since kids, at any age, will pick up on what we do, say, read, associate with and even watch on TV. Like second-hand smoke, an innocent comment can infiltrate the vulnerable mind and induce fear. Staying silent when others (Mexicans, Muslims, gays, blacks, Christians, Jews, “working class” whites, etc.) are being disparaged won’t go unnoticed.
So in the end grandma, getting “him” off the screen is one thing; getting the news-traumatized into the circle – the right circle – is a much better strategy.
Off now to the drugstore. My medication for TFS is ready for pickup.
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, story teller and senior associate with Diversity Wealth. He is also a member of the Cross Cultural Academy, the founder of the Global Diversity Consortium, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, Catalyst and the American Diversity Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org