My son woke up around 7am the other day–which he usually does when there is no school–and instead of coming to wake my husband or me up, he turned on the TV. The TV is set to come on to the Science Channel.
How dangerous can the Science Channel be at 7am?
Well, the show my 8-year-old son happened across was a forensic science show and they were investigating murders. One murder–my son later told me–was about a man who killed a taxi driver. This was sad, my son thought, but since he can easily avoid being a taxi driver, it didn’t worry him.
The other story was about the murder of a mother and daughter.
My son didn’t tell me the circumstances but their story–and I assume there must’ve been a reenactment–kept him from going to sleep. “It’s okay during the day,” my son said, “but in the dark it’s different.”
This lead to questions about why murder happens, how murderers choose their victims, and what would keep something bad from happening to us.
As for the last question, my simple answer of, “We live in a nice area,” was answered with, “But bad things happen in nice areas too. Just because it looks nice doesn’t mean anything.”
Well, true. Terrible things can happen anywhere. But this is not something I’m eager to tell my child.
We talked about why people kill–which I don’t claim to have an answer for but I have to say something. We talked about emotions out of control, the influence of drugs and alcohol, greed, and a lack of empathy for others.
We talked about how murderers choose victims–and I can’t be sure of this either, but I tell my son that people are most often hurt by people they know, people they have an emotional problem with, but also criminals choose people who won’t be missed or seen.
This is a terrible conversation but he has questions. To say, “This is not something you should think about” feels false and unhelpful because my childhood taught me that these things are possible…just unlikely. And we talked about that. Life is unpredictable but certain things are unlikely.
I told him that we can’t live our lives afraid of all the terrible possibilities. We wouldn’t live if that were the case.
What can an 8-year-old be expected to understand?
So I told him an extremely watered-down version of a story about a student at my school. My point was to tell him that even though this young woman had been through many difficult things, she came to school, went out with friends, laughed, and was thoughtful and friendly. Here is someone who has every reason to live in fear, and yet she doesn’t.
Then my son and I decided he needed to read something funny before bedtime.
I certainly needed something funny.