Tips on talking to kids about tough classroom issues

Max Smith,

WASHINGTON – Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” may have won a Pulitzer prize, but a Fairfax County mother was trying to get the school system to take it out of the AP English curriculum over its depictions of murder, rape and other strong content.

The school system has rejected her request, but it raises the question of how parents can help kids deal with tough issues that come up in the classroom.

Local adolescent psychologist and author Neil Bernstein says it’s important to discuss tough issues, whether they come up in the classroom, a TV show, or on the news.

“I think the takeaway for parents should be that if a difficult issue, if a tragic issue, is talked about and presented in the right way — with compassion, with understanding, with reasonable explanation suited to the age of the child — the child will be better off for it,” he says.

There are exceptions of course, especially for children who may have experienced a traumatic event in the past that could make some issues hit a little too close to home.

“Know your child, and know your child’s sensitivity to certain issues, and if something is a hot button for your kid, or a red flag, approach it gingerly or don’t go there,” he says.

Overall, Bernstein says it’s important to remember the goals of teaching tough subjects in the classroom.

“That somehow young people will be better off, that they’ll be more empathic, that they’ll be more sensitive to people who are less fortunate than themselves, there are all kinds of potential positive spinoffs,” he says.

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