Why my par­ent­ing play­book still in­cludes ‘ap­point­ment TV’

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - KEITH BLACK­MAN

As a Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based pub­lic re­la­tions pro­fes­sional, I han­dle a daily mix of pub­lic af­fairs and cri­sis sit­u­a­tions. It’s my job to ad­vise clients on how to re­spond to news events, di­vi­sive is­sues and dis­turb­ing con­tent.

Some­times, I for­get that my kids are ex­posed to and keenly aware of those same is­sues and events. My 15-year-old daugh­ter and 11-yearold son are con­stantly bom­barded by in­for­ma­tion, im­ages and news sto­ries — both fake and real — from class­mates, teach­ers, friends and of course their ever-present mo­bile de­vices. While I am proud of how in­tel­li­gent and in­tensely cu­ri­ous they are, I worry about their abil­ity to process and un­der­stand the non­stop flow of daily in­for­ma­tion.

My fa­therly hands have been forced to have ear­lier and deeper real-world con­ver­sa­tions with my kids than my par­ents ever did with my broth­ers and me. We’ve talked about di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion, gen­der and sex­u­al­ity, cy­ber­bul­ly­ing and ter­ror­ism, and, most re­cently, sui­cide, thanks to the pop­u­lar­ity of the Net­flix hit “13 Rea­sons Why.”

My ad­vice to other par­ents would be to em­brace those con­ver­sa­tions and lean into them fully.

It’s ad­vice that springs from our de­ci­sion to res­ur­rect a fam­ily tra­di­tion de­clared dead years ago, with the ad­vent of the 24-hour news cy­cle and dig­i­tal plat­forms that al­low us to watch what we want when we want it: ap­point­ment tele­vi­sion.

My wife and I rec­og­nized early in our par­ent­ing ad­ven­tures that at the end of the day — con­ve­niently around 6:30 or 7 p.m. — our kids felt the need to un­load, of­ten in pa­tience-test­ing and mind-numb­ing de­tail, about ev­ery­thing that had hap­pened to them that day. As they grew older, that vent­ing took on in­creas­ingly omi­nous and dis­turb­ing un­der­tones, and their anx­i­ety over cur­rent events some­times man­i­fested it­self in ques­tions such as “Can that hap­pen to us too, Daddy?” or “Why would some­one do that, Daddy?” or the par­tic­u­larly heart-wrench­ing “Am I safe in my school, Daddy?”

Faced with sugar-coat­ing the daily head­lines or tak­ing a head-on ap­proach, we chose the lat­ter. So for the past six years we have made a point of gath­er­ing each evening be­fore or dur­ing din­ner to watch one of the nightly net­work news broad­casts. We sit to­gether on the couch and my wife and I be­come news chap­er­ones, sound­ing boards, ex­plain­ers and com­forters and as­sur­ers that the world, de­spite all in­di­ca­tions to the con­trary, is not com­ing to an end.

The con­ver­sa­tions con­tinue long af­ter the thank­fully light­hearted “In­spir­ing Amer­ica,” “On the Road” or “Per­son of the Week” pieces have wrapped the broad­cast.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, we also re­mind the kids not to talk about some sto­ries at school the next day, as cer­tain top­ics could be up­set­ting.

I feel con­fi­dent that they are de­vel­op­ing tools that will help them make sense of their wak­ing world.

So give it a try. As my Dad did years ago with Wal­ter Cronkite, pull up a chair with your sons and daugh­ters and in­vite Lester Holt, David Muir or Scott Pel­ley into your liv­ing rooms.

Cronkite’s sig­na­ture sign-off seems par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant to­day in de­scrib­ing the prag­matic ap­proach we’ve adopted as par­ents: “And that’s the way it is.”

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