What Will Kids Learn About Dr. George Tiller? And From Who?

group-hugMay 31, 2009 When heinous acts of murder shake our nation to its very core, it brings out “the good, the bad, and the ugly” in media coverage, personal dogma and combative demogoguery.

Whether it’s  terrorism, school shootings,  or today’s death of Dr. George Tiller, media has a role to play in curbing violence and handling the outpouring of grief productively.

It’s crucial in how we heal and recover, as media has become such a force field of ‘always on’ data that reporting can become the news via the angle taken or contribute to the escalation of buzz by sheer volume.

It pains me to see sensationalized headlines and discourse reduce a lifetime of Dr. Tiller’s dedication to women’s reproductive health clipped into staccato sound bites and labels that incite further divisiveness…And it pains me even more to see people put children smack dab in the crossfire as photo opportunities, sign waving political pawns, and human shields for inflammatory rhetoric.

georgetillerAs one of the few remaining providers of late term abortion, Dr. Tiller represented a stalwart tenacity to serve women’s health with high quality care.

Reducing his career to a two-word label “abortion doctor” seems profoundly unjust, when his efforts represent so much more in a macro point of view.

I hope all will center themselves wisely amidst this murder and not allow media to usurp the power to perceive the incident clearly with unblurred vision.

Jessica Gottlieb of LA Moms Blog wrote a poignant personal snapshot of generational precedents which captured the essence of what many women have taken for granted among today’s reproductive experiences:

“My mother’s generation grew up knowing that sex could kill you, because an abortion was that dangerous.

I am a 39 year old woman; I grew up with Planned Parenthood and free clinics. It would be easy for me to forget that feminism isn’t just about women working. Feminism is about women living and dying.”

She went on to say what I’ve felt myself:

“There is no part of me that wants a woman to have an abortion. When I lay in bed at night, and I’m still I can recall the flutters of my children’s limbs in my womb. Within moments of a positive pregnancy test, I was thinking of names for my children and planning our time together, from trips to education and books to read…

…I would risk everything I have on the mothers I have met; I know that they are NOT killers, and that abortion, particularly late term abortions are not decisions made lightly.”

Besides shaking our heads with incredulity or opening our already empty wallets to the cause of our choice…what do YOU think we can do to better process the media onslaught about to blitz our kids, classrooms and conversations?

I have a teen now, so it’s bound to be a hefty topic, but Jessica’s post made me realize how very little my own teen knows about even the era I’ve lived through, much less my MOM, who falls more into the ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ era of media moments…

Do you think the topic will be on kids’ radar? Why or why not?

How will you prepare? What will you say if the topic arises?

Or will it land on kids randomly at school? Next Sunday at church? Via peer dialog? An opinionated neighbor?

Do kids today have any context of ‘that was then, this is now’ thinking?

Will you be opening up the dialog in your household? If so, at what age and stage?

Feministing had a good article on “what you can do” that took a non-violent organizing stance, turning despair into action, sadness into a sobering shoulder shake.

They also gave important perspective noting this was the first time in over a decade a murder of a health care provider has occured…and I think that complacency is also what’s cut many of us to the core.

It leaves us all rattled about reproductive reverb and recognizing that rational thought has ‘left the building’ in some of these polarizing, very personal healthcare debates…

adolescent-health-collaborativeAdolescent Health Collaborative (via Facebook) sent a message reminding us of the inter-generational link to the young:

“Reproductive health services and advocacy is where much of the adolescent health movement began…We are all devastated by this loss..

In times of senseless tragedy such as this, I try to comfort myself by focusing on the amazing gifts Dr. Tiller gave so unselfishly throughout his extensive career.”

We can choose to let horrific events engulf us in sadness, take solace among the like-minded, or take action in spirited conviction with the hope of championing change.

I think I’ve done all three already…and the night is young…

But as we ask ourselves the question ‘what can we do?’ in times of crisis, upheaval and assassination or murder or terrorism (loaded words, I realize, but accurate nonetheless) …one of the answers is ‘we mustn’t forget.’

We mustn’t forget that we live in a civilized nation when it all too often seems barbaric…Nor forget how our words and ideals are  landing on kids.

We mustn’t forget that pro-life and pro-murder are oxymoronic, and that the word ‘choice’ doesn’t mean there always IS one.

We mustn’t forget Dr. Tiller as a servant of women’s right to safe, quality healthcare…Nor the violent way he died in a place of peace. And we musn’t forget that women and men like Dr. Tiller have literally put their lives on the line to fight for the right to separate quality medical care from ideology.

I know, you probably wish you could forget about this unbelievable day altogether…But please don’t.

Related Resources

Children Now: Talking With Kids About the News

Excellent specific talking tips (complete with role play, ages and stages) and a solid roundup of web link resources on violence and tragedies of various kinds

(e.g.) “What have you heard or seen? Where did you get your information?” (Other kids on the playground? TV? Internet? Teacher?)

(S.Y.) What Do You Say to Children About Headline News?

(S.Y.) Virginia Tech Tragedy, Media Coping Tips

(S.Y.) Mass Media Has A Role to Play in Curbing Violence

(S.Y.) Media, Kids & Grief: Different Ages & Stages of Loss

Kids Health: Primer/How Kids Perceive the News

Media Literacy 101: How to Detect Fear-Mongering

Watching TV News: How to Be A Smarter Viewer

Fair.org: Media Spin Revolves Around the Word “Terrorist”

Time: Tiller’s Murder: How Will it Impact the Abortion Fight?

AP: Timeline of Recent Cases of Abortion Led Violence

Wichita Eagle: George Tiller Suspect May Be Charged Monday

Links list below re: online news for kids via Talking With Kids About Tough Subjects:

Every dogma has its day, but ideals are eternal. ~Israel Zangwill



  1. Sharing a comment thread from our FB discussion about news events and current affairs/school coverage on today’s issues:

    “Sadly, we Americans can handle only 1 news story at a time. I think this morning’s Air France plane disappearance/crash now has mindshare.”

    “indeed. And perspective is key for kids…as the pervasiveness of media can surface fears that could put quaking wee ones afraid of ‘churches and airplanes’ absent context. sigh.”

    So my question is, will either/ANY of the ‘top news’ discussions be on the radar of American kids coming home from school today?

    Veeeeeeeeeery curious as to “if, how, who, why ” and the ages of kids responding…(mini-research poll here, readers)

    Off to the Ypulse Youth Marketing Mashup…and I’m LATE!!!

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