When kids witness violence and hatred in the world, how can parents help them cope? Here are five ways faith can help.
by Ryan Langr
With 24-hour news coverage, it’s impossible to escape the steady stream of violence in our world today, whether it’s another mass shooting or a terrorist attack. Every week, there’s something new to grieve and be angry about. Anger and sadness are both valid and healthy responses, but how do we move past them? More importantly, how do we help our kids cope with these realities?
As Christians, we might be tempted to retreat from the world, forming communities and family units that are safely insulated from what’s going on. But that is not the response that Jesus and the Church calls us to. Instead, we are called to engage the world in order to participate in Christ’s work of redeeming the world. Engaging with a world that sometimes seems consumed by hatred and violence requires vulnerability so we can share the world’s pain—just as Christ did on the cross. But as faithful Christians, we also know that the cross we bear comes with the promise of a Resurrection.
Here are five steps you can take to engage in the world’s pain and sadness—and move forward to a place of healing and reconciliation. You may not want to do all five steps, but at least try the first two with your older kids and teens.
What To Do with Your Kids
1) Pray about what you see
Pray together as a family and share your feelings with one another and God. Pray for peace, an end to fear, an end to anxiety, the safety of your loved ones, and those around the world. Pray that our leaders figure out how to fix the problems that lead to violence and hatred, and pray that we may be united, rather than divided, in the wake of violence. Talk to your kids about what it means to love your enemies, and spend an hour in Eucharistic adoration for this intention. You might also pray a rosary or chaplet of divine mercy for peace in our world.
2) Hold onto hope
Help your kids have hope in the world and in Christ. When we lose hope, we not only lose the chance to redeem our situation, but we tell God that we don’t trust him to bring us through bad times. Talk about times in the past when things seemed bad and you wanted to give up. How did it end up, and where did you see God in that situation? How can we apply that lesson to the evil we see in the world today?
There are many great Bible stories that highlight hope, as well as many verses like the following:
- For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
- Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
- For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. (Romans 8:24-25)
- Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. (Romans 12:12)
Also: Facebook is a wonderful tool for connecting with people and getting news. But sometimes, too much Facebook can lead to cynicism; don’t be afraid to take a few days off.
3) Study Church teaching about the problem
Studying and learning about a situation might help your kids feel better about it. The Church has a rich tradition of teachings on almost any subject. The summary of them can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (which covers social issues more thoroughly than the Catechism). You can also find Church teaching regarding most issues by performing a Google search like this:
site:www.vatican.va [search term]
The “Issues and Action” section of the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is a great place to go for resources on issues of particular interest to the local Church. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops maintains a similar website offering Church perspectives on issues of particlar interest in Canada.
4) Take action
Help your kids do something about the violence and injustice they see in the world. Reaching out to affected communities with words or acts of sympathy, writing letters to members of Congress, or organizing prayer vigils and fundraisers are all options. Better yet, help your kids brainstorm creative ways that they might make a difference so they can come up with their own solutions. Caitlin Prater-Haacke, a Calgary teenager, responded to bullying by leaving more than 850 Post-It notes with positive messages on student and faculty lockers at her high school. When her creative response went viral, it had an impact well beyond her school.
A great organization that empowers older kids and teens to take action on social justice is WE.org. The organization was founded by Craig Kielburger, who as a 12-year-old became internationally known for his activism on the issue of child labor. Today, WE.org does a great job of getting young people engaged in changing the world. The organization has an excellent guide for families that you can download from their website.
5) Pray your experiences
Always circle back around to prayer. Whether you are trying to hope, learning about problems, or taking action, teach your kids to renew themselves in prayer. Prayer not only gives us the strength and courage we need to tackle tough problems; it also helps us keep things in the right perspective—God’s perspective. When we pray through our experiences, we open ourselves to God’s wisdom, and God’s plan for us and our world . . . and as Christians, we know that that plan has a happy ending.