How to Talk to Students About Paris

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The Eiffel Tower at sunset, Paris, France

Last Friday, I was perusing Goodwill when my dad called. “Have you seen the news?” he asked. “No, what’s up?” I responded. “You might want to turn it on” he answered. You see, my husband is French. Many of his loved ones are in France.

Last night while I was washing dishes, I asked my husband, “Is there anything you want me to include, speaking as a French person?”

“I don’t know, Bek.  I’m still shocked from the fact that it happened,” he answered.

There are many reeling and grieving.  As some stripe their profile picture red, white and blue and then move on, some rush to accuse and hand-out solutions and I-told-you-so’s, some recoil from the scariness of an unsafe world, some boil in anger at events seemingly unnoticed, we need to take time to process.

Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of emotion, it is likely your students will be all over the place.  Here are some suggestions for conversation about last weekend’s tragedy.

Whatever the emotion, acknowledge it, asking questions to the tune of “tell me more.” Listen. Repeat back what you hear them saying and ask if you are hearing correctly.

The Angry Kid

Affirm the angry kid’s sense of justice, and ask how it makes them feel when justice is ignored. Let your students know it is ok to be angry with evil. Help them process what to do with their anger, by tying it into scripture. What did Jesus say about injustice, justice and anger?

The Sad Kid

Ask the sad kid if they will share what they are sad about with you. If they are sad, they may be feeling scared on the one hand, or have memories, friends or other connections to France on the other. Ask the sad kid to tell you some stories of those memories, friends or connections. The sad kid needs to be heard in their sadness.

The Worried Kid

This kid may have high anxiety, may spend most of their time with adults listening, but not quite understanding adult conversation, may feel insecure about life in general. The worried kid may be freaking out for reasons that seem miniscule to you. The worried kid needs an immediate emotional safe place.That safe place can be you, taking them seriously. Ask the kid why they are worried and who in their life they can talk to about their worries. Ask them if they would be willing to share this particular worry with an adult (a parent ideally) who can continue to provide an emotional safe place.

The Clueless Kid

The clueless kid may have noticed that Facebook went red, white and blue, but couldn’t tell you why. If they are curious, briefly update this student on the facts. Do not exaggerate. Do not be dramatic. Simply share what happened without interpretation. This may lead to another conversation. If it does, lean into that conversation. If it doesn’t, ask your student about his or her weekend. Do not shame them for what they do or do not know.  

Whatever the emotions present in your students, these are conversations worth having. Our students are growing up in a post 9/11 world. They need adults who will lovingly engage with them in post 9/11 conversation, helping them process their own beliefs, and make sense of this world. Let us rise to the occasion and be those adults for our students.

Image attribution: Creatas / Thinkstock

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Rebekah got her start in youth ministry at Christ Church in Montevideo, Uruguay and is now the Minister of Youth Discipleship at First United Methodist Church in Tulsa, OK. She earned her B.S. in Organizational Management and Ethics from Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Rebekah is married to her soulmate, Philippe. Together they like to drink mate, play soccer with their dogs, and dream of traveling the world. Rebekah has read Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy six times.

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