How to Talk to Tweens About Tragedy

Middle school was a challenging time for me and The Teen. Overnight my daughter morphed into a young woman who had boys nervously calling the house and she demanded a privacy I only read about in my young adult novels. She would prefer to spend hours in her room writing poems and journaling rather than join the family downstairs. Not only was she more private, she got that stinky attitude that tweens adopt. Not quite a teen, not quite a baby, her awkwardness translated to poor grades and me thinking about how I could send her to live with my in-laws in Virginia. Girl Scouts truly saved us.

Knowing that many moons ago I too was a teenage girl, I chalked up this stage as something reserved for girls. TV shows don’t really highlight the plight of the tween boy. The books I devoured all had girls as the hero. The television shows I watched featured boys who only had a desire to

  • Get a girl
  • Keep a girl
  • Not be bullied.

With the The PreTeen, I figured the days of puberty foolishness was over. I thought the most I would have to deal with was some moodiness, hidden smiles at the changing of his voice and the smell of feet.


The PreTeen is still as loving as ever. He retains his slightly Pooh-like outlook for things, and is sweet to the soul. Slowly, he’s turning into a stranger. He now prefers the comforts of his messy room to the company of The Mister and me downstairs. One-word answers are now standard. This is a kid who would start talking from the moment he pulled back the covers in the morning to the time he finally fell asleep mid-sentence.

One way I found to bond with him was the morning news. He’s a fanatic about starting his day with 6ABC and Good Morning America’s Josh Elliott. Taking a cue from me, he either argues with the stories on the news or he pauses certain features so we can watch and discuss together. Yesterday he was silent, only his lips moving as his eyes widened at the screen.

Before he left the house, he told me he was scared and had prayed for the child in New Mexico who had shot two classmates. Knowing the bus was waiting, I made him stop and talk to me. He said he wanted to take the bus, but he was sad that a kid his age could do anything so heinous.

Despite his stinky behavior, I’m proud of my son. He recognizes that there are things in this world that are scary and he doesn’t have control over. He also had a period where he questioned how something like this could happen.

I am so jaded to violence that I didn’t pay the story much attention. I didn’t think I needed to say anything because in the last two weeks, a kid in Philadelphia was arrested for bringing a gun to school and a kid in Upper Darby was popped for having a BB gun on him in class. My child’s visible discomfort with this story made me look for a way to talk about this incident. That he found solace in prayer was comforting, but knowing how I struggled with my own faith in the past, I want to make sure he knows that I am always there for him.

Here are some ways to talk to your child in times of tragedy.

  • Don’t give more information than necessary. Not that I want to hide anything from my child, but giving details that he doesn’t ask for will only scare him.
  • Don’t give easy answers. When I was in the midst of a crisis of faith, some well-meaning Christian would always misquote 1 Corinthians 10:13 by telling me that God doesn’t give us more than I can handle. The correct verse (from the New Living Translation) is: "The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure." While these words make the other person feel better, it does nothing to alleviate the fears or concerns.
  • Don’t diminish fears. Unfortunately, we live in a neighborhood that can be rough for a child that has been sheltered. To tell my son that he is okay, it wouldn’t happen to him, or that he has nothing to worry about is an insult to the man I am trying to raise. I have pointed out how unfortunate the incident was, let my son know that it is a possibility something like that could happen in our area, but I also assured him that for now, he should be diligent about his surroundings and not allow this to shape how he behaves.
  • Don’t say it was God’s will. The quickest way for me to check out is the all-encompassing reason that God willed something to happen. I have heard arguments that God allows suffering so that we grow in faith. I also heard that God allows tragedy so that the survivors can work and demonstrate His will. A 12-year-old cannot and will not understand this line of defense. No one but God Himself knows what His divine will is so just, don’t.
  • Sometimes saying nothing is the best way to help. When he’s ready to talk, my son will let loose and I can only hope he runs out of steam. However, as long as he’s talking, I’m listening. I’m going to hug him, reassure him of MY love for him, and let him say what he needs to say.

I don’t have answers. I won’t pretend to know why this happened. What I can do is be there for my son, stinky attitude and all.

Raya Fagg is a mom of two from Upper Darby, PA. This post is adapted from her blog, And Starring As Herself…MRSRFKJ.

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