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Danny De Gracia: Talk To Your Kids About Current Events — No Matter How Grim


Every child is an adult in training, and childhood experiences play a significant role in forming how these future adults will perceive the world.

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Hawaii, and America in general, has historically seen long intervals of time between major upheavals, and it is rare that so many problems confront us all at once. And while we as adults may find these times very distressing, this is, in fact, a once in a lifetime learning opportunity for our children to develop understanding, experience and resilience for when they become adults.

This is why it is important that parents and teachers use this time to talk to children about current events, both to hear how they perceive the world, and to explain what is going on or why things are happening the way they are.

The biggest mistake that many people make is to assume that children shouldn’t be burdened with current events and should be left to exclusively “child” activities, lest they experience some kind of developmental trauma. In reality, from an evolutionary perspective, allowing children to learn about the world around them from a nurturing and supportive adult is the fastest way to develop adaptation against future threats.

Forget “Take Your Child to Work Day” – we need to keep our children engaged, immersed and informed every day in the real world. Our children, as the next generation of adults, will be more prepared and more confident in dealing with the world of their future if, in the present, we use these times to teach them.

I like what the late President John F. Kennedy said: “Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man.” A healthy democracy requires our children to have critical thinking skills, historical precedents to lean on, and solid decision-making abilities. (If not, they’ll be completely at the mercy of others making the decisions for them.)

And wouldn’t you know it, by accident or design, the world is so messed up right now that if keiki learn from our mistakes, they will have a great opportunity to fix or avoid these things in the future.

When I was growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by adults who made it a point to treat me not as a “kid” but as an adult in training. Back then, there was no social media, 24/7 news or world wide web, so adult mentorship played an important role in raising up GenXers like myself.

Kids enjoy some shade at Kapiolani Park.
Teach your children well. Rather than protecting them from upsetting events use the world’s problems as teachable moments. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

One learning moment from my childhood that really stands out for me is when Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines exploded, and a massive humanitarian disaster ensued that displaced thousands of Americans to the tiny Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, where my family was stationed at the time.

My father was the commander of the 633rd Medical Group when the disaster hit, and he made it a point not only to explain to me what was going on, but to take me to personally see the refugees and how they were being taken care of. Many of my friends, despite all being kids, were also pulled into the crisis as civilian volunteers who assisted the Red Cross.

On one particular evening, my father brought me with him to deliver an important prescription medication to an evacuee who had flown in from Clark Air Base. While he could have sent his deputies or even his enlisted to do that during normal work hours, my dad did that to demonstrate initiative and leadership by example. When he explained to me how important it was as a commander to connect with people affected by one’s decisions, and sometimes even push people in the right direction, I never forgot that lesson, and it still motivates me to this day.

I think Oahu’s adults should make it a point to do the same for our keiki in 2022. Let’s not only explain to our children what’s going on, but let’s show them what we’re doing in response to world and local events. This is not only education, but I believe it is a show of love to impart to children our knowledge and allow them to participate in our experiences.

There’s several ways we can approach this. First, we have to make time to include children in our adult lives. No matter how busy we are, if you are a parent, relative, teacher, or even neighbor, make it a point to talk to the children that are in your sphere of influence, and talk to them often about current events. You can also connect children with elders who have stories to tell.

Second, don’t underestimate the power of the “field trip.” Take children to places where they can see, hear and touch history. This might be as simple as going to the Legislature when important hearings are taking place, or, it might even involve taking your children to see things like coastal erosion from climate change. Yes, they really will learn from seeing these things in person.

Last but not least, we adults should seek to educate ourselves so that we can effectively educate the keiki. Read, observe, learn and teach the next generation. These are confusing and terrifying times, but love brings understanding to everything and edifies those around us. Don’t let this moment in history go to waste.

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