Sun-Times Media West Group Managging Editor Judy Harvey. Monday, December 10, 2012. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 17, 2013 6:34AM
As the children of a journalist, my kids are often much more tuned in to current events than their friends.
The morning routine involves Mom flipping back and forth between Chicago radio and TV news stations to see what, if anything, happened overnight. And there’s Mom, periodically grabbing her phone to check Twitter and her emails for news alerts.
My kids, ages 8 and 9, have been my eyes and ears to breaking news, often calling out over a bowl of cereal, “Mom, I heard them say something about a house fire last night. Not sure what town. But some people were hurt.”
“OK. Thanks, honey,” I answer back from the bathroom as I dry my hair. “Can you grab my phone and bring it to me so I can check?”
I have had doubts at times about exposing them to so much information on a daily basis. In addition to the stories they hear and see on radio and TV, they see me on websites and overhear me talk about stories to colleagues on the phone as we react to breaking news of a shooting or fatal crash.
When I have thought about all the negatives that may come with such an upbringing, I balance that out with the positives. They have a more global view than many of their classmates. They are learning at a young age the importance of being informed and knowledgeable citizens, to have a voice in government and forming their own opinions on politics and social matters.
When they have questions about something in the news, be it politics or crime, I have tried to answer them as honestly and openly as I can. The amount of details I disclose depends on the nature of the event. I am no different from parents everywhere in that I often walk a fine line when it comes to tragic or adult-themed stories. Unfortunately, parents are faced with this challenge far too often.
Locally, there was the horrific stabbing deaths of two young children in Naperville a few months ago. “Mommy, is there someone going around killing kids in their homes?” one of my children asked.
“No,” I replied. “That was one house where something really bad happened and something went very, very wrong.” I kept a close eye on their faces, seeing if that answer satisfied, reassured them. After a few moments, they went back to eating their dinner and sharing their playground stories from the school day.
One potential crisis past. Another tragic story cleared.
And then came Friday’s news from a small Connecticut town. A young man armed with a gun walked into an elementary school where his mother taught kindergarten and opened fire. He first fired into the principal’s office and then blasted his way through two classrooms. When it was all over — the gunfire, the screaming — 28 people were dead, including the gunman’s mother and 20 children, The gunman himself was dead.
When the story broke, I was in the newsroom and immediately tuned into whatever news source I could find to get the latest information. The journalist part of me thought, “How do we cover this story here for our readers in the Naperville and Fox Valley area?”
The mom part of me choked back tears for those children who were killed and for those who survived. I choked backed tears for all of the parents, including the mother of the gunman.
Once the newsroom staff gathered and our coverage plan was in place, I took a deep breath, then realized I had another big challenge awaiting me later that evening. How will I talk to my kids about this one?
The two places a child should feel the safest are their home and school. And what the Naperville tragedy did was instill a sense of doubt about their home. Yeah, Mom said it was not someone still out there attacking kids in their homes, but did they really believe that deep down?
Now, a school much like their own — in a normally quiet, safe town — has been violated in a most horrific way. And young kids, who look like the kids they know at their own school, were murdered. Teachers who look like their own were shot down trying to protect them.
How does this mom try to reassure them about this? How does this mom say with confidence, “But sweetheart, that is not going to happen at your school.”
The answer is, we really cannot guarantee anything. We want to think we can but we can’t. We can only do our best with what is within our control to give our children the security they need. And we send our kids off to school holding on to the belief that we will see them safe and happy at the end of the school day.
We have no other real choice.
Judy Harvey is the new managing editor of the Sun-Times Media West Division, which includes the Beacon-News, the Courier-News and the Naperville Sun newspapers and online products. She joined Sun-Times Media in 2006 as an online content editor.