DEAR HARRIETTE: The news has been filled with stories about the Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, who was killed recently by a neighborhood watch person. Because it has been flooding the news, my son, who is 9 years old, has heard it.
Today he asked me to explain the situation to him and tell him why this boy was killed. I could see fear in his eyes, and I wasn't really sure how to explain it to him.
I try to shield him from bad news, but every time I turn on the TV, this story is there. Plus, my boy is African-American, and I can't help but worry that something like this could happen to him.
From what I have seen and read, there doesn't seem to be a legitimate reason for the boy to have been shot, but the shooter has not been arrested yet. How do you talk to your child about what looks like a racist, scary killing? -- Horrified Mom, Staten Island, N.Y.
DEAR HORRIFIED MOM: I trust that by the time this is published, there will be some progress regarding this tragic story. The good news, if there could be any, is that there has been a national outcry on all sides of the aisle to properly investigate this death and determine where justice lies.
Many aspects of how this tragedy unfolded are suspicious. But I would say that should not be what you discuss with your child.
He is still young, and you don't want to scare him more than necessary. You can tell him the basics: that a teenager was killed and there are many questions about why. You can tell him that parents everywhere are upset because they want to protect their children from harm, and that didn't happen in this case. You can tell him what many parents have told their children, particularly if they are African-American boys, for decades -- that they should never antagonize the police or run from them. They should be as still and quiet as possible. Why? It may save their lives.
There is an etiquette to dealing with law officers, and it is very important to teach your children how to interact with them. They need to be taught how to be quietly and humbly respectful, how to avoid carrying items that could be mistaken for weapons, and how to be compliant instead of talking back and having an attitude. If arrested, then they can get legal support and contest whatever charges are brought against them.
The challenge as it relates to this story is that the person who shot the young man was not a police officer. But he did have a gun.
This is a frightening tragedy. I trust that as it unfolds, justice will prevail. I recommend that you limit how much your son gets to see of this story but that you do let him know the outcome.