My son was barely four years old when he asked me a question that nearly took my breath away.
“How come the good guys always win on TV?”
I fished around for a minute and came up with the tried-and-true parental time saver.
He repeated the question, waiting patiently for my answer.
“I’m not sure what you mean, honey. Can you explain?” I asked.
“There are bad guys, but they always lose. Why?”
He himself had lost quite a bit of something in the past year, as his dad and I had divorced. His little question drove home to me that even a four year old understands that life isn’t always going to be pretty. So why, mommy, do children’s TV shows and movies make it seem like the good guys will always win?
If there was an award for the best question of the year, I would have loved to give it to him.
And, because I write for children and tweens as well as adults, I had to think long and hard about his question, and about my answer.
I think writers recoil at letting the bad guys win when they write for children, but then children, with their superb radars, catch us out at it. But while they know bad things happen, we haven’t figured out how to tell them so. I think we are afraid of frightening them. I certainly was.
I don’t remember exactly what I told my son that day, but it was along the lines of stories being different than reality, and the fact that stories kind of show us what we want to be like instead of who we really are.
At least, some stories, meaning stories for kids.
Years later, when I started writing The Beat on Ruby’s Street for tweens, I knew there was a lot of stuff that Ruby would go through that would make her feel like the bad guys were winning. The one thing I wanted her to have was a tool, just one, tiny tool that would help her deal with tough times.
Because bad stuff is just going to continue to happen, and somehow, we need to teach our kids to deal with it. At what times, and what ages, is the question of the year.
For resources on how to talk to your kids about tragedy, I found these:
· How to Help Kids Feel Safe After Tragedy by Grace Hwang Lynch