For many parents who are taking their kids to see "The Dark Knight Rises" this weekend, there may be two burning questions in the wake of the shooting at a Colorado movie theater that left 12 dead.
Do you tell them about it? And if so, how?
According to two psychologists who specialize in childhood development, parents definitely should broach the subject.
"It is most likely kids will hear about this one way or another, and it would be confusing for them to not know what other people are talking about, especially if they are at the movie theater when they're overhearing these conversations," said University of Utah clinical psychology professor Patricia K. Kerig. "[It's] far better they hear about it from a caring adult who can give them the information in a calm and accurate way and help them cope with their reactions to it."
Robin Gurwitch, psychologist at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital who studies the impact of trauma and crisis events on children, agrees.
"If we were living 20 years ago, they may not know. But we live in a world of social media now, and between Twitter and Facebook and text messages and everything else, it's more likely that they do know," she said. "It's important to find out what they have heard. As a parent, you have to be able to learn if what they heard is true or may not be true and what is just lots of rumor. It gives you the opportunity to start where they are at."
The PG-13 rated "The Dark Knight Rises" is considered one of this summer's most anticipated movies and probably will attract a big number of preteens and teens given that it's based on the popular "Batman" comic books and films. The movie, a sequel to "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," has already proved to be wildly popular in Utah. Three of the Top 10 most-attended midnight screenings in the country Thursday night were at Utah theaters, in Sandy, South Jordan and Lehi.
At a midnight screening in a Cinemark movie theater in Aurora, Colo., a gunman wearing body armor and a gas mask walked into one of the auditoriums, tossed at least one tear gas canister and then fired into the crowd. Twelve people were killed and another 59 wounded in the rampage, which occurred about 12:30 a.m., according to law enforcement officials. Police arrested 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes in the shooting.
As parents and children begin to absorb the shock and horror of the shooting, Gurwitch recommends that adults ask their kids what they think about the world around them.
"One of the things we talk about is the 'assumptive world' I go to work and nothing happens, and I go to the movies and nothing happens where everybody is safe. We believe that is the way this world is supposed to work," she said. "What this event did was shake that. It's recognizing that it will be very hard because your thoughts will be there with those families in Colorado. They're also thinking about what is the likelihood this would happen in Salt Lake City."
The U's Kerig said it's best to keep the explanations about the incident simple when talking about it with kids.
"It's also OK to say so when we honestly don't know the answers to questions, such as why he did it," she said. "Most important is to listen, really listen, to what kids think and feel, and let them know it is OK to talk and ask questions, or not talk about it if they'd rather not."
Parents who want to learn more can go to the website for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network at http://www.nctsn.org, a government-funded organization that focuses on childhood trauma. The site already has posted a list of resources parents can turn to for help in talking to their kids about the shooting.
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Help for parents
O Go to nctsn.org, the website for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a government-funded organization that focuses on childhood trauma.