Difficult and necessary conversations with our kids

Rebecca Stanisic

It has been a challenging and stressful time for many of us, especially for those who live here in Ottawa and were in areas recently affected by the convoy. For many, the occupation meant concerns about safety, noise, increased anxiety and more. These effects have also been felt by our children.

When major events are happening around us, especially in our own city or country, they naturally become topics of conversation and moments of reflection. Younger children may express worry or have difficulty sleeping. They may have a lot of questions, turning to the adults in their life for reassurance (even if we don’t have many answers at times).

Older kids can have the same concerns, but they are also exposed to news and information in a way younger children likely aren’t. They might seek out information, or the social media algorithms may push content to them. Having conversations about major events like what we recently lived through in Ottawa become crucial; topics like racism, white supremacy, anti-science and how to counter it, hate symbols, governments, laws and misinformation have all been discussed in our household.

We’ve had a lot of discussions about social media comments or ‘recommended videos’ on YouTube they may be seeing. We’ve talked about how social media facilitates the spread of information and misinformation.

While kids do learn about history, civics and media literacy at school, we must also tackle these topics around the dinner table, on car rides with our kids or when they approach us with questions and their own thoughts. No matter their age, they will have questions about what they are hearing at school or seeing online. This is a good way to learn more about how they are interacting with and consuming online media.

These conversations won’t end as we continue to live through the pandemic and other major global and national events. Parents and caregivers can continue to offer a supportive place for open discussion to help our kids work through their thoughts and feelings.

While this article was written about Ottawa and the occupation, it’s hard not to also think about the conversations that are starting and continuing as we see traumatic events unfold like the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This is the time to remind them that you are there to listen and that they aren’t alone because there has been so much going on the past couple of years and it can feel heavy for our children. We all need that reassurance.

MediaSmarts has recently published a long list of resources to help parents, teachers and students become better digital citizens and to help facilitate these conversations. This extensive list includes tips on how to talk to our kids about the news, fact checking, online hate and more.

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