The killing of 49 people in Orlando this week, where another 53 people were also injured, is a poignant reminder that tragedy is an unassailable part of life. In the flurry of news reports, young people will have some questions about what the events in Orlando mean to them individually and collectively.
My first response to the news was a sense of wasteless loss. So many of those killed are young people, just starting their grown up lives and probably still working out who they are and what their contribution to this world will be. As a parent I just feel so sad for those who at this time are mourning.
Before I go further, my thoughts are with those who were injured, who sheltered and survived, those who have lost family and friends, and the people of Orlando, who must somehow rally together and move on.
Linking Orlando’s shooting to hate
There seems little doubt now that the mass shooting in Orlando was based on hate. It seems to be a growing option in our world today that hate can be exacted through public acts of violence, and we all become a little more immune to it. It becomes a little more a part of our lives and something we just have to accept about life in the 21st Century.
If our children are asking why this shooting happened in Orlando, or are upset when they hear or see news reports, then it’s important to talk to them about this hate. If they have been talking about it with friends or at school and come home with questions, we need to connect the violence to hate, more than political or religious beliefs, access to guns or mental illness.
The Webster Dictionary defines hate as an “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger and a sense of injury”. We can be sure that the Orlando shooting wasn’t hate against one person or a group who had individually hurt the shooter. It was a statement of hate. We may never know if that hate was driven by fear, anger or a sense of injury, but we can be sure that the people who have lost their lives, who are recovering from injuries and those who survived were a representation for this hate.
If we as adults are custodians of this world for our children, then we need to prepare them for their role as the coming leaders and nurturers of humanity. When events like what has happened in Orlando do occur, this can be an opportunity for us to help young people understand the present world, but also formulate a picture for how they’d like the world to be, and what part they will play in it. Here’s three things we as parents can do in the coming days to help our teens and tweens be influencers who overcome hate:
- Teach our kids to be peaceful people who look for connection and similarity with others rather than difference and hurt. As people, we tend to fear others we don’t know, but when you make an effort to get to know people who are different to you, there can often be more in common that you realised.
- Model kindness, inclusion and acceptance. The more the world veers towards hate, the more we should make a stand and be kind. The influence of people like Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jnr started with a personal act of kindness.
- Talk about hate and challenge hateful statements, particularly if they are global ones like “I hate people who are good at school”. Delve into any fears, anger or sense of injury that might be underlying those statements and help kids to keep these in perspective.
If your teens or tweens are feeling very fearful as a result of the shooting in Orlando and in a few weeks time are still caught up on thoughts of death, make sure you organise for them to get some counselling to work through their fears. As we’ve seen this week, every day is precious and our kids should be able to enjoy their childhood, not fear it.