A Security Money Can’t Buy

By: Reuben Zimmerman

I only rarely watch TV, and I was reminded why last week when after just 30 seconds of viewing I was advised by an "expert" child psychologist that I should talk to my kids about the war: once a week, at minimum. That too much viewing of smoke, guns, and sirens could strike fear into their young and impressionable minds. That I should tell them they are SAFE.

I had to think back to my own childhood. Born in the sixties, growing up in the seventies, mine was the all-American childhood, replete with sandboxes, matchbox cars and trips to the local Dairy Queen. I never thought much about life, and less about death, until high school, when the Reaganites resurrected the Cold War and my ninth-grade civics teacher warned us that democracy was again at stake.

Now, I've never felt that kids should be overloaded with too many of life's more difficult details. That comes soon enough, and without anyone trying: the homeless man we see on the street; the racy ads in a magazine left inadvertently on a low coffee table; words like "sex" and "corpse" and "terrorist." But tell my kids they're "safe"? Are kids really that dumb?

My wife and I have thought a lot about that in recent months. September 11 happened only miles from our home, and we still have reason to take the train into the city more often than we'd like. So it wasn't surprising to us when Zachary, our seven-year-old, asked if John, a lawyer friend of ours who works in a third-floor office, minded working "so high up." John, of course, works barely 30 feet off the ground, but to a kid, that's high enough, and Zachary's post-9/11 thought processes are remarkably sophisticated. So when I gently admonished that terrorists weren't likely to choose the mid-Hudson as their next target, he replied solemnly, "Dad, it can happen anywhere."

So it can, and we had better be prepared. No, I'm not advocating mindless fear-mongering, but I do think a dose of reality is wise, and necessary, for kids growing up today. I have five of my own, and even if they never see war on these shores, who can guarantee them life-long economic security--or even life itself? Can we ever really tell our kids that they're going to be immune from suffering, illness or death? And if not, isn't it better we help them to deal with these things now, than surprise them with the facts of life at eighteen?

So Margrit and I find ourselves talking to our kids about the war. Yes, we're probably safe, we tell them, but it's OK to be scared, because war is a frightening thing. All the same, we have a God who has promised to be with us "to the end of the age," and we have to believe that.

Actually, we find ourselves envying their childlike faith--to be able to say a quick prayer and then hit the pillow without further ado. Simplistic, yes, but faith is never rational. For us, nurturing this faith is the only way we can give them their childhood back--the only real peace and security we can ever give them.

We remind them that if they're scared, think of kids in Iraq who are heading into bomb shelters at 2:00a.m. And we talk about the many American kids who may never see Daddy again. And we thank God for two parents, for food and a roof and warm clothes.

There are other things we can do to help prepare them for life's hardships, too: little things like not giving in to their every demand; foregoing dessert to teach them that for many, food is a bare necessity; saying "no" and meaning "no" when they demand candy or toys or books they really don't need. It's all about self-discipline, about building character, about coming to terms with our own frailties, about distinguishing "need" from "want" and learning to live with a little of the pain, cold, fear and uncertainty that makes life real.

All this is antithetical to a culture that preaches both self-indulgence and self-assurance as the road to happiness, but we are certain it will equip our children with more wisdom and understanding than can be endowed by any child psychologist. And it forces us to talk to them and pray with them--more than once a week.

Reuben Zimmerman is a physician's assistant and father of five young children. He writes about parenting issues for http://www.bruderhof.com. Copyright Bruderhof Communities. Used with permission.

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