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  • Chloe O'Sullivan

On Tour With the Kid | Navigating Tough Questions in a TikTok Era

My mother was this beacon of all knowledge when I was a kid. She was very bright, a big reader, socially conscious, and I don’t remember ever asking her a big question to which she didn’t have the answer. Cut to me as the parent of a pre-teen, and I feel like I'm either not smart enough or not prepared enough for what my kid wants to know.


It has occurred to me that one of the big differences between my childhood and today is there did seem to be this shared understanding. You sat down and watched the news together, so discussions would come from things you have seen together. You did that because there wasn't a choice in the 70s and 80s. There was not much else to do at night, and we only had two channels in the country town I grew up in.

The news you saw together was also bound by journalist ethics and rules about the kind of things they would just pop on the screen without warning, which does not exist on TikTok.

To demonstrate – this is an actual conversation I had with my pre-teen recently that left me feeling like I was the dumbest person in the room.

Kid: Mum, who are the people beheading babies?

Me: Bloody hell, kid we are in the drive through at McDonalds. I’m sorry you had to hear about that; it’s pretty awful. Where did that come up in conversation?

Kid: TikTok.

Me: Well, it’s a very long story. You know the people who were murdered by the Germans in the Second World War (kid says yep). Well, they have this centuries-old connection to this particular part of the land, and after the war, lots of people signed an agreement to make the state of Israel on that land. The only problem is that in the time between, things had changed in 1948 when they made that deal; the Palestinians were already on that land, so they then lost access for that state to be made. So, the people who wanted to be there to have this safe place and a homeland from the start had neighbours who hated them because they lost a place that meant a lot to them, and a fight has been going on since then. The problem is that the people who were murdered are not their government, and the people who are killed when Israel's government retaliates are not their government either. The whole thing is just really sad.

Kid: Mum, I just wanted to know the name of the people who did it.

Me: Hamas.

Kid: THANK YOU! It was a simple question.

I returned to concentrating on the road and spent the rest of the day worried about whether I’d explained that well enough. It's an extraordinarily complex situation, and did I articulate the difference between an act of terrorism and a retaliatory act of war? I know I have parental controls on her devices, but I know I have been seeking out information on the conflict because I have a friend who has family in Israel and have seen photos and heard stories that I can never unsee and never unhear. How do I make sure she doesn’t have to see that?

I didn’t sleep well that night. I lay there and worried that her questions would only get more complicated, and I needed to be smarter and more prepared for these questions. I don’t want to be one of the reasons the kid ends up in therapy. I finally started to drift off to sleep and realised I hadn’t made the cupcakes that she was meant to take to school the next morning. I got up, turned on the oven, started mixing the batter, and thought about how to more succinctly explain a centuries-old conflict. You know, the usual thing mums do at 2am.


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