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Generation Anxious: How Do We Talk to Our Kids about the Attack on the Capitol?

Anxious teen by SBD. 1/6/21.

I wrote last week about how Generation Z is the most anxious, loneliest generation. I talked about climate anxiety and the pandemic. I mentioned that according to the Cigna loneliest index, they are lonelier than Baby Boomers. That index research occurred before the pandemic. Social media isn’t simply a tool for sharing cool memes, these kids are bright, and hyperaware of social and political issues.

And then… an attack on the Capitol.

My 15 year-old watched with us as it unfolded on CNN. It first looked like the protestors had crossed the barrier and would remain on the Capitol steps. Then the crowd literally broke into the Capitol Building.

My older daughter watched in horror. She said, “Mom, can you imagine if this happened during the Black Lives Matter movement? Hundreds of people would have been shot! Where are the police? The dogs? The rubber bullets? The tear gas? ”

As a former Hill staffer, I was frozen and in complete disbelief. If I were arranging a Capitol meeting for constituents, I would have to ask for social security numbers and go through two metal detectors. Rarely did I go the Senate floor without my boss — a sitting Senator. I couldn’t even bring a water bottle to the lobby.

But, these people shattered windows and raided the tunnels— during a joint session of Congress?

The scenes from the Senate floor were equally as shocking and scary. The certification voting stopped. And I literally prayed that there wouldn’t be a massacre of legislators, rioters, or police. It is a miracle that the police staved off this mob and protected the legislators from being killed.

The rioters who trashed the Capitol Building, threatened the Vice President and congressional leadership during a vote to certify an election, constructed a noose and gallows on Capitol Grounds...

. . . then walked out of the building and got on planes to go home.

Our children watched this happen on live television.

As new details emerge it seems more and more like this was an actual coup attempt by a sitting President who lost an election.

How do we talk to our kids about a coup attempt in the United States of America, the beacon of Democracy?

And how do we assure them the rule of law will prevail when we, ourselves, are stunned?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Talk to your kids about what happened. Express your opinion and ask for theirs. Talk about your values, the constitution, and the electoral process.

  • Discuss the rule of law. Explain that despite the violent attack on the nation’s Capitol during a legislative proceeding certifying a vote, the vote ultimately continued. The legislators did their job.

  • Outline your values as family. Talk about the what we’ve learned as a society and what we’ve not. How do these riots differ from the protests we’ve seen on the mall, the Women’s March, the Science March, and the Black Lives Matter protests? Talk about the difference between “No Justice, No Peace” and “Hang Mike Pence.” Discuss white privilege, what it means, and how we can work to become anti-racist.

  • Discuss the polarization of America. Talk about different news sites and information and misinformation online. Ask them what they know and what they think. Consider watching The Social Dilemma with them. Ask them about tech companies and their power. Ask about whether they agree with the decisions of companies to delete the President’s twitter account. Probe their knowledge of the First Amendment, what type of speech it covers, whether it applies to private companies, and what type of assemblies.

  • Talk about the electoral process, how votes are certified, and then the role of the courts. How do the three branches of government work? What do the checks and balances mean?

Above all, urge them to take care of their mental health.

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