Q & A With Dr. James Dobson
Q. Dr. Dobson, I am extremely concerned about my children, ages six and seven, in the aftermath of the horrible killings in Newtown, Connecticut. They don't know the details, but they've heard at school that "something awful" happened to many boys and girls. They are asking about it and I don't know what to tell them. How should I handle this tragic situation?
A. The massacre of children that occurred recently is almost beyond comprehension. Parents everywhere are grieving and trying to decide how to respond to their children's unanswerable questions. Maybe these suggestions will be helpful.
I think it is important to tell your young children that there are some very bad people in the world who do hurtful things to others. Sometimes boys and girls are the ones who get hurt by these people, and that is what recently happened. I wouldn't tell them that children were killed, or murdered, or that something else unthinkable happened at a school. Don't overstate it in a way that will terrify them. But they do need answers.
At this point, you have to walk a very narrow path. On the one hand, you want to teach them to stay away from strangers and to tell you if anything scares them. On the other hand, you can't afford to make them feel like the world is out to get them and that they are in constant danger. You want them to be cautious without being fearful of all adults.
Everything depends on your demeanor. If you are anxious and fearful, they will be too. Children take their cues from their parents. Try to discuss the subject without showing that you are extremely upset. Don't cry or make your kids think you are not able to protect them. Their security is in your hands. They also need to know that the crisis is over.
Tell them, "Police came to get the bad man and he will never hurt anyone again." Assure your children of your love and remind them that God gave them mommies and daddies to protect them, and that you watch out for them every hour of every day. This is why you sometimes have to say "no" to their requests.
If you have a strong faith, I think you should then turn to Jesus. Tell them He cares for each of us and that He will hear us when we ask for protection. He knows our names and is with us at all times. The Bible also tells us He especially loves little children.
My six-year old grandson, Lincoln, has been having some bad dreams about monsters and wakes up crying at night. When he told his dad about it two weeks ago, Ryan began reading the 91st Psalm with him every night before going to sleep. This is a comforting passage, and Lincoln has had very few nightmares since they began reading.
I have paraphrased Psalm 91 below, taken from "The Message." You might want to use it, or any other version. The Message is written for adults, obviously, and might need to be edited for children as I have done:
Those who sit down in God's presence will spend the night in His shadow. He's my protection. I trust in Him and I'm safe! He rescues me from hidden traps, and shields me from every danger. His huge arms encircle me—under them I'm perfectly safe; His arms protect me from harm. I fear nothing—not even wild animals at night.
Bad people who try to scare me will get pushed away. Even evil can't get close to me. It can't get through the door. God ordered His angels to guard me wherever I go. If I stumble, they'll catch me; their job is to keep me from falling. I'll walk unharmed among lions and snakes, and kick them out of my way."If I hold on to God," He says, "I'll get you out of trouble. I'll give you the best of care if you'll only get to know and trust me."
Call me and I'll answer. I'll be at your side in bad times. I'll rescue you and give you a long life, and give you a long drink of salvation!"
I've taken some liberties with the Scripture, here, but I think I've been faithful to the context. After you have read this Psalm, I suggest you pray together and thank Jesus for loving and caring for us. Thank Him also for the angels that stand guard over us as we sleep. And thank Him for mommies and daddies who also love and take care of their children. Ask Jesus to help us learn to trust Him more. Finally, on alternative nights, read or quote the 23rd Psalm with your children. You might memorize it together.
Every circumstance is different, and the suggested wording offered here should vary with the age, maturity, and security of each child. What I've written was designed for kids in elementary school, and is just a guide to be modified to meet the needs of a particular boy or girl.
I hope this is helpful. What a shame that we have to deal with tragedies like this, but I'm afraid it is the world we live in.
Q. What do you think caused the killer in Newtown to do such unthinkable things?
A. I am not familiar with the particulars of this massacre, but I can speak to the question generally. America has become a dangerous place partially because of the violence we tolerate. Even young children grow up today playing violent video games, watching unwholesome cable television, wretched Hollywood movies and MTV, and many other depictions of dramatized murder, rape, drug usage, etc.
Children are exposed to these influences from early ages. Millions of kids come home to empty houses every afternoon and watch unsavory stuff that they should never be allowed to witness.
Harmful examples of this violent nature are evident everywhere, even at the highest levels of society. On December 9, 2012, President Barack Obama invited the rapper, Psy, to the White House for a performance. This is the man who has sung at anti-American concerts featuring his own lyrics. One of them reads, "Kill those f***ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqui captives; Kill those f***ing Yankees who ordered them to torture; Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-laws and fathers; Kill them all slowly and painfully." Despite his history, the President brought Psy into the "people's house," and honored him as a great entertainer. No wonder violence is so deeply woven into the fabric of the American culture.
The sponsors and creators of unwholesome entertainment have insisted for decades that children are not harmed by dramatized violence. How foolish! Why would advertisers spend billions of dollars to get their products before the public, including children, if they thought no one was paying attention? We have to acknowledge that what kids see and hear directly influences how they think and behave. One quick glance at Reece's Pieces in the movie E.T sent America's kids rushing out to buy the candy. How outrageous to pretend that a steady depiction of raping and torturing and knifing innocent victims will not warp the morals and character of the nation's children. Some of them as adults make society pay for its negligence and abuse when they were young and impressionable.
There is another dimension that should be noted. Some adults who commit violent crimes were sexually and verbally abused or horribly neglected when they were young. These tragic experiences produce prodigious amounts of the stress hormone, cortisol. It floods the brain during times of severe distress or fear and causes irreversible damage to receptors in the brain. One of the consequences of this damage is an inability of teens and young adults to "feel" for others. Many of them can kill without any emotional response to what they are doing. They have no conscience.
Millions of dollars have been invested in behavioral research to understand this phenomenon. It's clear from these studies that childhood terror and emotional distress can create violent psychopaths. These individuals who were not cared for when they were babies and toddlers grow up to wreak havoc on innocent victims. We can do a much better job with the children entrusted to our care.
I also want to share a letter from Pastor Jim Carlson, which conveys the heartache we all feel.
The heart-wrenching events in Connecticut today make us all feel sad and angry. Evil brings out these emotions. We weep with the parents who lost their precious little ones and recoil at the thought that one deranged individual could cause so much pain for so many families. The first Christmas, when Herod ordered the killing of every child two years of age and under within a 15 mile radius of Bethlehem, must have felt the same way. "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more" (Matthew 2:18). There are usually no answers to the "why" questions of life after a tragedy like this. However, one thing is sure. We desperately need the Christ of Christmas in our world and in our lives. It is only because of His atoning death and resurrection that righteousness will ultimately win the day and His justice will prevail. As we pray for those who are grieving in Newtown, may we all find new hope and inner peace in the presence of Jesus this Christmas season.
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