Questions of Age: When Can You Talk to Children About Serious Issues?
When is it too soon to talk to children about serious issues?
Last week, my boss posed an interesting thought: when is his son the appropriate age to go to the Holocaust Museum here in DC? As a Potter fan, this question perplexed me; I was incredibly young when I read about the themes of war, death, poverty, prejudice, inequality, genocide, and crime in the Harry Potter series. How would I answer this with my own children? Is there a line between the fictional atrocities and the real that children should not cross too early? Historical events like the Holocaust are real – the museum is a beautiful, profoundly emotional experience into the human lives of that destruction. When are children old enough to understand? When are they old enough to not be afraid? When would he be old enough to learn about this horrifying time and learn from it?
This topic relates around the ideas of education and censorship that have burrowed themselves within our society. Through various TV shows and online media, there are some issues such as body image and violence that are seen early on; on the other hand, discussions centered around sexuality or gender are brought up much later. Perhaps this is because parents are still grappling with some issues while others are brought up by peers. However, I was faced with the issue of censorship when I was recently looking to buy my niece a copy of the Rainbow Fish, one of my favorite picture books as a child. While I was reading the reviews, I realized that some saw the story as a socialist morality tale (the rainbow fish giving away all his shiny scales) when I had understood it to be a sharing story! Should I teach my neice about socialism so early or should I stick to easier topics? What had my parents done?
A lot of these issues come back to the question of age. But, is age defined by a number? To me, age depends on a child’s experiences – what they have read, seen, and done to make sense of the world – which will allow them to be “ready”. As far as I’m concerned, children don’t often act their age; in Quinn’s post, a young girl had the wisdom of someone who lived on the earth much longer and The Girl Who Lived had the courage of one who has fought many battles. With this in mind in thinking about the Holocaust museum, I would say that it depends on what children have learned in school, if they had read about WWII, and if they had any frame of reference. I remember reading Number the Stars, living through all the secret riddles and nightly escapes as if they were an adventure; the holocaust hadn’t exactly seemed horrific, but it was certainly scary and uncertain. I wasn’t shaken until later, after seeing films and stepping foot into a concentration camp. My question is: how can we gauge this “age”?
For me, it was reading. Through books, I had a frame of reference to both understand the world and to step away from it. Time traveling to different places, imagining myself as a witch/knight/adventurer, and delving into historical times all helped me to face the confounding nature of the world. Of course, reading would not be possible without parents, coaches, friends, and mentors who let me in on their own stories and life lessons. However, I am beginning to think that it is the frame, the way we outline hard topics, that allow for children to be ready.Maybe, if we bring things up early, in a healthy and constructive way, it would change so many of the most serious issues.
What do you think?