Talking to My Ten-Year Old About the Kidnapping of Nigerian School Girls – #BringBackOurGirls

Beyond our usual “what’s the best thing that happened to you today” conversation at dinnertime, we’ve added some social media sharing  – talking about a video or story that’s gone viral that day. Our first time watching Pharrell’s “Happy” or Kid President’s Pep Talk came after a dinner conversation. It’s a great way to share a global conversation.

But this week, it got uncomfortable – and that’s ok, too. I had avoided the conversation, but I knew that I needed to say something. I wanted our fifth grader to know about the 270+ schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria, as it was so prominent in my thoughts for over a week, but I also didn’t want to plant the fear of going to school into her head. I didn’t want to burden her heart but I did want to give her a sense of real things happening in the world, and how precious/precarious/powerful the simple act of going to school can be.

So we finally had “the talk” last night. For all my fretting, the whole thing lasted about three minutes. Deliberately brief, I had thought it through.  Short conversations like this can serve as a seed to an ongoing exploration about justice, education, equity, human rights, circumstances that various countries are experiencing, the particular plight of women, family, faith, fundamentalism, and much more. Here’s how I remember it:

Me (in conversation directed to my husband): “I’m glad the United States is going to send a team of investigators and military in to Nigeria to help find and bring home the kidnapped girls.”

Sophia: “Kidnapped girls? What kidnapped girls?”

Me: “In Nigeria close to 300 girls were taken from their school by people who don’t believe that girls should receive an education.”

Sophia: “That’s horrible.”

Me: “It IS horrible. I’m glad that we know about it and that the military will be used for a just cause. (Pause) Remember Malala?”

Sophia: “Yes.”

Me: “It’s a bit like Malala’s situation, where this girl getting an education seemed so threatening to people that think girls shouldn’t be educated. In fact, she is powerful and we all know her as a hero.”

That’s pretty much it. She didn’t probe much beyond that. I don’t think she’s ready to hear that some of the girls are being sold for $12 as brides or sex slaves, or to conjecture the unthinkable horror and pain they may be going through, the torment to their families, and that the perpetrators – terrorists – are at-large and could be continuing to kidnap girls for unthinkable ends.  These are discussions that teens and up can be having, though.

Mrs. Obama can keep this conversation going so the spotlight isn't lifted off a horrible situation.

Mrs. Obama can keep this conversation going so the spotlight isn’t lifted off a horrible situation.

 I deliberately started the discussion with the President’s Executive Order to send assistance to Nigerian authorities. I want her introduction to global atrocities to come with a sense of empowerment, that good people can do something about horrific actions and not stand helplessly by.

 This list of the names of the girls can be shared, though in our first conversation on the topic I thought that would be too much for her.  However, the individual names comprise an important part of understanding this story. Consider each name, each life, each family, each girl’s hopes and dreams as she headed off expectantly toward her school each day.  Reading – and even more powerful, reciting aloud – the names of the individual girls serves as an important empathy-building tool.  Ultimately this is a story about people and people have names.  If Sophia brings up the Nigerian girls again, which I expect she will, I want to suggest that we read some of the names and say a prayer for them.  If she wants to say a prayer for each one, that would be fine too.

 Uniting with people of all faiths in offering a prayer for the girls, signing a #BringBackOurGirls petition on-line, supporting an organization that helps immigrant women and girls fleeing violence, or one that helps girls get an education – all these can help make a difference in the face of such heinous crimes.  And continuing bite-sized, age-appropriate conversations in safe spaces will help build compassion and concern, for a lifetime.

8 responses on “Talking to My Ten-Year Old About the Kidnapping of Nigerian School Girls – #BringBackOurGirls

  1. Mara Migraineur

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us so that we may thoughtfully approach this with our own children. Thank you, also, for sharing your suggestions for concrete things we can do to feel empowered ourselves.

    1. Homa Tavangar Post author

      Thank you! I guess some of the “strategy with our kids” is actually helpful for us bigger people — I certainly find that!

  2. AE

    I really appreciate this thoughtful piece on judicious conversations about terrible events like the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in Nigeria. Children who know about a crisis often regain a sense of control by talking about it, so engaging children in an honest and age-appropriate dialogue is key. Experts recommend complete media blackouts during crises for younger children. (Of course you can’t always control what they hear from friends at school.) For older kids, it’s important that we control our own reactions and think about who is in earshot when talking to others, because children often take their emotional cues from parents and other significant adults. When having these types of conversations, parents should take care to wrap up the discussion in a positive way.

    1. Homa Tavangar Post author

      AE: That’s really helpful info. I agree that children under 12 or so should not be taking in the news of horrible events. I let Sophia listen to “judiciously selected” pieces on NPR. The other day she said to me in the car: “Can’t we just listen to Terry Gross (of Fresh Air)?!!”

  3. Angela @CreatifulKids

    I loved reading this article very much and thank you for explaining in such details how you handled it. Although my kids are still too small for this kind of conversation I found it inspirational for the future!
    Thank you!

    1. Homa Tavangar Post author

      It’s great that you are thinking about your young children and how you might respond in the future. We all can use “muscle building” on these skills. 🙂

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