My oldest son is in fourth grade, and this week his class was given an assignment to write and illustrate their own books. The kids were allowed to write about anything they wanted—they could just let their imaginations soar.
My wife helps the teacher with special projects like this and spent some time at the school yesterday assembling and binding the books, and in the process read many of them. She was really taken aback by how consistently two topics in particular were featured: missing children, and the end of the world.
More than half of the children in the fourth grade at this school focused on variations of those two topics in books that could have been about anything they wanted, anything that a nine-year old could think of. Consider some of the titles:
“3020, the End of the World”
“The Case of the Missing Girl”
“The Missing Parents”
In one of the end-of-the-world stories, a boy wrote about his family building a shelter under their house and stocking it with food and supplies because it would be their “home forever” after “the war.”
In one of the missing children stories, a girl wrote about being stalked in a shopping mall by a strange man while her father desperately searched for her. In detail, she wrote about hiding in a changing room while the stranger walked from room to room hunting her down. The story ended with her being taken by the stranger and lost forever.
This may be a relatively small sampling of kids, but how they are interpreting and amplifying the fears that plague adult minds is telling. I think we underestimate how closely kids pay attention to the news, and how much they are internalizing fears about children being kidnapped, terrorism, war and the variety of other frightening topics coming at us from all directions.
And not only from the news, but from television dramas and movies that we adults watch while the kids are playing in another room. Are they peeking over and picking up on the plotlines? Are they focusing on violence in the shows done to kids just like them? If these stories are any indication, it sure seems that they are.
My takeaway from this is that the rising generation is very aware of what we, their parents and other adults, are afraid of, and they are spending a lot of time thinking about it. Their pictures and stories are telling us about their fears, but in an even larger sense, they’re telling a story about us.