It's hard to know what to tell young children about the biggest news story of our time, the BP Gulf Oil Spill. Four-year-olds are curious by nature, to say the least. They're such indiscriminate information sponges that it can be darned difficult keeping big news of the "real world" out of their intake zone, even if you try.
Heaven knows must of us are careful not to sit them down in front of the evening news and go off to make dinner. But they still manage to catch wind of some of the more super-sized news stories of our day & age.
When that happens, it feels to this parent like the safest thing to do is offer some factual context, and some reassurance - enough information to create a basic understanding of what's happening, without nightmare-inducing levels of detail. Then let them question, comment, vent a little as needed, treating them like the little emerging citizens of the world that they are, complete with free speech rights (within reason, that is!).
That's what I ended up doing with my four-year-old this past weekend. She has been peripherally aware of the Gulf oil spill, especially living right near the coast in Florida. But we've shielded her from the more ugly aspects and images of the story, the way we do from any genuinely disturbing, scary input from this information overloaded world.
Early Saturday morning my daughter heard me talking on the phone about the Hands Across The Sand event, a fifteen-minute global happening where men, women and children would be gathering on coastal beaches worldwide, joining hands in peaceful opposition to the threat of continued offshore drilling.
When I got off the phone, Aliza was full of questions. So I carefully filled her in on what offshore oil drilling was, how BP's rig had exploded and sunk in the Gulf of Mexico, how oil had been gushing out ever since and how much trouble that was causing. I reassured her that it would get fixed, but I couldn't promise her it would never happen again.
That's where activism came into play.
Aliza was disturbed and dismayed when she heard about the oil spill and what it was doing to waters, wildlife and coastlines. She wanted to know if other kids knew about all this. And she wanted to know what she could do about it.
As she often does because she knows Daddy is a filmmaker, she asked me to grab the always handy little "Flip Video" camera and "take a movie", so she could "let the kids" know what was going on - and show them what they could do about it.
The thing of it is, once she felt like she had a better handle on this oil spill disaster story that been confusing her for a while, once she felt like she was able to have her say about it, and once she felt like she had done something to help prevent it from happening again...she seemed to feel much, much better.
Maybe The Next Generation Can Get Us Off Oil Once & For All...