Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Deja Vu All Over Again"

Well, I've returned from the far flung land of Brooklyn and have, literally, a sack full of music to review from Kindiefest 2011. Regardless, I thought it was important to take time out from the world of kids' music to talk more seriously about how young children are effected by news stories like the recent events in Pakistan.

I am glad that more measured voices are coming to the fore, and reminding us that delighting in the death of anyone, regardless of how evil or misguided they are diminishes our connection to humanity and actually reinforces the notion that the loss of life is an acceptable price to pay for our ideology. My main emotion is a sense of relief that this chapter is finally put to bed mixed with sadness that it doesn't bring our brave service members home or stop the violence in the Middle East.

Now, on to the kids... 2001 marked my first year as a lead preschool teacher with my own classroom of three year olds. On that horrific day in September, I was struck with this feeling of scared emptiness as I was forced to return to my classroom after hearing the news and pretend that the world was not changed forever. For the sake of my young charges, I put on a brave face and their blissful innocence was of some comfort. It allowed me to escape from the reality of what was going on in the outside world and focus on that very moment (and I think that very moment was taken up by playing with trucks).

It wasn't until a few days later that the blissful innocence was shattered, and clearly troubled kids started sharing their fears and anxieties. I had parents say point blank, "Oh, she has seen the news, but she has no idea what is going on. I'm not worried about it." My message was, "Well you should be. Your child is clearly disturbed by what she has seen. She has no way to understand or deal with these fears and emotions and is continually talking about it in inappropriate ways with her peers." Kids at this age are sponges, how many parents have accidentally taught their child a swear while driving? They absorb much more than we give them credit for because most of the time we can't even get them to respond to their own name.

Granted the news of this week has a much different tinge, but the issues at the heart of the matter are nonetheless inappropriate for young kids. I had a similar feeling of strange disconnect, going through the paces of my daily routine playing and singing with kids on Monday while my head was somewhere far off. I was struck again by the fact that being in the world of preschool was a safe refuge from what was going on outside its safe, primary colored walls.

This safety and unawareness was shattered at 3:30pm when I started my first afterschool class. The oldest child (7) in my group (who just so happens to have one of those loud, piercing voices) came into the classroom quoting headlines from not one but two different news papers, then going into detail about the specifics. Thankfully the 4 and 5 y/o's just shrugged him off and didn't take much stock in his monologue. Later he drew this picture:
For a boy who was not alive on 9/11 that is a really startlingly detailed image of the twin towers (down to the 3D perspective). He could not stop talking about it, and I had to remind him several times that he was the oldest in the group, and I did not want him to scare the other children, plus this was a MUSIC class!

His attitude was one of joyful bravado, but I know from experience this is a mask. Deep down this child was wrestling with this information and he was seeking validation from his teachers and peers. Children trying to make sense of issues that are above their maturity level often obsess about them to the point where that is all they can think or talk about. Trust me, our piano lesson didn't involve a lot of playing!

As an adult, it's easy to say, "Oh, he's fine! He's not frightened or upset, he's just being a boy who likes to draw guns." We forget that once a 7 y/o takes off their cool-kid sneakers and Paul Frank skull T-shirt that they still wear footy pajamas and need a night light. Don't let Disney fool you, Elementary School kids are NOT ready for High School Musical.

I am aware that it is near impossible to shield your child from outside influence and media. I don't advocate living a sort of Amish lifestyle to protect these young minds, but I strongly urge you to limit your child's access to world events of this kind. If you have to deal with it because they have heard the news, the simplest and easiest to digest explanation is best, "A very bad man was killed by our soldiers to make our country a safer place." If they are old enough to process it and want to talk, please remind them to find an adult and not to spread it around the their friends or younger kids. If they do feel the need to express themselves through art, it can be another way to deal with uneasy feelings. If you get nothing out of this blog post, I hope it is this, keep 'em young and innocent as long as possible. Trust me they'll be watching "16 and Pregnant" on MTV before you know it!

And on a related note:

Kid Story of the Day: I had a 7 y/o arrive at my music class today toting a blackberry (yep, that's right, a blackberry). I said, "Salome, you need to put that away class is going to start." She held up an index finger without looking from the screen and my blood boiled. "You are here to make music, not to start at a tiny screen! I will not compete with a telephone for your attention. You need to put that away or you will leave my class!" You should have heard her pleas and upset when I took it and put it on a shelf for safe keeping.


Anne Deysher said...

I second your wise and insightful comments about young children and the need to protect them from information that is too adult for them to process. They absolutely hear and see what's going on around them, and it's our responsibility as adults to protect them from too mature information.
Sorry to read about the Blackberry toting student!

Ginna said...

Well done, Nick! This is seemingly the beginning of "let the teacher deal with raising my child" syndrome! Parents are too busy dealing with their own issues! Blackberry shelf...great idea!

Tito said...

Excellent post, Nick.