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Talking to kids about evil

Children should know that atrocities happen

By Brian Platt

I spent the past month working for a news agency in Vancouver. One of my last assignments was to help cover the grisly delivery of a human hand and foot to two Vancouver elementary schools. It’s now been confirmed that the body parts are from Lin Jun, the Chinese student killed in Montreal, allegedly by Luka Rocco Magnotta.

As I talked to parents outside the schools, one interesting question came up consistently: are you going to tell your child about this?

Some of the students at these schools were as young as six. Many of the parents said they would have a serious talk about it with their children, but there were a few who said they would do their best to keep the news away from their child’s ears.

Now, I’m not a parent, and won’t be for a long time (that’s the plan, anyway). But if I had kids of my own, I don’t think I could justify keeping them ignorant about such an event — particularly when it happens right at their school.

There are limits, of course. Six years old is probably too young for a talk about murder; it would certainly depend on the relative maturity of the particular child. News also came out this week of a Quebec high school teacher who apparently showed his students the extremely gruesome video of Jun being killed; this is obviously going too far.

Yet I feel very strongly that Canadians and Americans have become way too disconnected from the abject conditions in which millions of people in the world still live. Those growing up in developing countries have daily reminders of senseless death and the horrible cruelty that humans are capable of doing to each other. And we are too reticent to talk to our children about why body parts have turned up at their school?

I’m not saying we should punish ourselves with every brutal murder, but the further we retreat into a cocoon of safety, the less able we are to understand those who live in abhorrent circumstances. In other words, social justice work that has value requires a certain understanding of the evil acts that our fellow humans are capable of.

A difficult and perhaps obvious continuation of this discussion is how a churchgoing child reconciles such misery with a loving God. However they do so, it seems to me that church may be one place where a young person hears most often about calamities in faraway lands. When children pray for those suffering through disasters and see Mission and Service pamphlets, they are confronted with a reality they may not always be exposed to in school or by friends and family. This is, to my mind, an ultimately healthy thing.

Author's photo
Brian Platt is a master of journalism student at Carleton University.
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