Over the past few years the trend to hold ‘candlelight vigils’ for child victims of crimes or accidents seems to have accelerated. Within hours of the admittedly terrible event, the media announce that a vigil will be held at the local school, footpath, bush setting or other nearby/relevant location to where the event occurred.
At first pass, the vigil allows those affected to express their grief although it could be said that the funeral service is a more appropriate opportunity. In any case, the media duly report on the vigil with interspersed comments from assorted attendees who sometimes knew the victim but more often, appear to have had no relationship to the victim other than they lived on the same street.
Whilst some may find it cathartic to attend, the trend to bring along their young children is disturbing. The media cameras capture images of ashen-faced kids standing next to their weeping parent and I can’t help but wonder what impact this trend has on the child’s developing psychology.
By example, the recent death of Charlise Mutten saw a vigil in which numerous adults were desolate with grief yet in their subsequent self-description on television, commented that they didn’t actually know the victim but the circumstances were “so sad”. Well yes, but the accompanying young children appeared bewildered and frightened: was it because of the tragedy, or their parent’s overwrought reaction?
I wondered whether the child had a direct or meaningful relationship with the victim and if so, was a public vigil the best way to express their grief? Shouldn’t young children be insulated from the periodic brutality of life and have the circumstances explained in a more private setting rather than a hastily arranged vigil complete with media present?
Cynically, I pondered the underlying question whether the parent’s attendance was a genuine expression of support for the victim’s family rather than compliance with some call-out issued via Twitter. Non-attendance, and an insufficient expression of grief on attendance, may be ‘noted’ by others in the social media circle.
We all know that terrible events can strike down the life of a child and this is both tragic and unsettling to the community. But a child’s growing awareness of mortality and the evils that lurk in society should also be managed. We protect our children from the worst of the internet and social media by shielding their exposure to what is ‘age appropriate’. In my opinion, no good will come from exposing them to a media event as a consequence of a tragedy. It is a disturbing response that may adversely influence the child’s developing view of the world and their safety within it.
As parents, it is our responsibility to protect children from danger and as they grow we caution them against various circumstances and hazards. It seems to me that young children should believe in unicorns and that Father Christmas, Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are all the real deal. As children age the occasional cruelty of life will become all too apparent but their ability to mentally process this knowledge is a gift of maturity.