Kids and the News Cycle

Tour de France Dreams

Tour de France Dreams

Ask my boy what he wants to be when he grows up, and he will either tell you that he is going to be the leader of Team Radio Shack or roll his eyes and say “how should I know?”

My boy was dealt a crushing blow by the news when the cycling doping scandal hit.

Our whole family enjoys watching cycling the way most of our friends enjoy watching football. We prepare snacks. We cheer out loud. We discuss peloton strategy. We get excited. I mean, the feats of cardiovascular strength those guys display on a regular basis, especially on long climbs through the Alps, have always seemed unbelievable, even superhuman. And, apparently, they  were both those things.  As in, not to be believed. As in, aided by high-tech super-secret blood doping schemes.

Because he overheard the story on NPR, I had to explain to my poor boy that most of the greatest cyclists in the sport’s recent memory, athletes he idolizes and has, up to now, hoped to emulate, used drugs to boost their performances. That most of them have admitted to being a bunch of cheaters, and that even those who won’t admit it probably cheated too.

His little heart was broken, so of course, mine was too.

Until recently, I never worried about listening to radio news with my kids in the room. They always seemed to tune it out completely, and since there aren’t disturbing visual images coming through the radio dial, I felt okay about it.

But they’re older now, and they’re listening.

I’m finding it really difficult to know how to handle their new-found awareness, since there is so much background knowledge they are missing. Often, I just turn it off, because I’m not ready to talk to my kids about some of that stuff at all. On the other hand, I know that it’s time for them to start getting a sense of the wider world.  I remember feeling very grown up when I started reading my dad’s Time magazines in sixth grade, and my kids are pushing into that age range.

The election coverage has been a good way for our family to start to negotiate this new phase of having children who pay attention to and care about national and world news. We’ve focused on critical thinking skills, on identifying hyperbole, on being skeptical of mud-slinging dressed up as “facts”, and on trying to find better, less emotional information on which to base important decisions. But I don’t know how well it’s working. It’s a lot to try to counter.

The truth is, I think I’m a little sad, embarrassed, even, about the way the world might look to my kids, to anyone’s kids, through the lens of the news cycle.

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