Helping Kids Form Balanced Opinions in an Unbalanced World

You're making dinner, the kids are doing homework at the kitchen table and the six o'clock news is on in the background. Reports of endless political controversy, hatred and violence in our schools and terrorism threats on our doorstep and across the world fill the air.

How do you react to what you hear? Do you respond with anger and frustration? Do you talk with your kids about issues? How do you guide and direct them in midst of the mayhem? How do you keep them from the fear equals hate equation? Are you conveying your own prejudice and bias and sending negative messages to your kids or are you helping them learn to see the big picture and form healthy opinions of their own? Where do you stand?

Having raised my kids in what would be considered a war zone, these issues were faced head on everyday. Our kids were born in Nazareth, Israel and we lived in an Arabic neighborhood there. Bus bombings and terror attacks in Israel were common place. Army trucks and soldiers were everywhere; always. Yet my kids did not sense fear from me. They knew there was conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians but they knew our family had both Jewish and Arabic friends. My children watched me welcome our neighbors into our home everyday. They watched as I leaned into my Arabic neighbors to learn their language and live in their culture.

After 9/11 we knew that tensions were even greater between America and the Middle East. Yet our kids knew that the men who hurt our country and people did not represent the people they lived among in a place they knew as home.

How did we keep our children from taking sides in such a hot topic world issue as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How did we keep from losing perspective and becoming polarized? It wasn't easy because our hearts would break at times to see such outward displays of unbridled hatred and violence. Yet we made a decision early on to help our kids understand that there are always two sides to every story.

Here are a few ways that have helped me cope with guiding my children through difficult news and circumstances:

- Help your children understand that there are good and bad people in every culture, everywhere-including America.

- Help them understand that "bad" people represent the minority and for the number of people who are hateful and hurtful there are many more who are helpful.

- Help them understand the hurts and issues on both sides.

- Even if you have strong religious convictions about an issue, do your best to convey care and concern for others even with those whom you disagree.

- Be honest about your own struggle to make sense of things. It will help them learn that it's a process. It will help them sort through their feelings and begin to shape and form their own opinions.