A lot of what I do is based around building relationships with children and young people. I have had thousands of conversations over the last few years, ranging from the mundane to the really serious stuff. The conversations I have with these fabulous little people allow me to have great insight into what is on their minds. One thing that I have noticed a lot lately is the anxiety that children, particularly 7 and 8 year olds, feel about death, dying and the end of the world. Often, I am the first adult they have had the chance to talk to about this, which makes me really sad because it means their parents aren’t talking to them.
I know 7 and 8 year olds are babies, and they seem way too young to need to know about this stuff, but they are picking up bits and pieces and without an adult to talk things through with, they’re getting afraid. This is particularly so with this year being 2012, the year the world is supposed to end. Parent, you need to talk to your child about this. Pretending it isn’t an issue won’t help. They need to know that there is nothing to worry about. Here are the three most common questions I am asked on this topic (my answers are based on what I would say to an averagely intelligent 7 or 8 year old):
1) What happens to you after you die?
I know many parents choose not to tell their children their beliefs about an afterlife, preferring to let them figure out their own beliefs. I challenge you to tell your child what your beliefs are. She will figure out her own beliefs as an adult regardless of what you tell her – children go against their parents’ beliefs all the time. At this age, children are developing their core values. These will have been developed, for the most part, by age 10. They are figuring out the world, and they need your guidance in doing so. You can start with “I believe…” and finish with a disclaimer that they may believe differently, and that’s okay, if you want, but give them something. Even if it’s “I believe that dying is like having a really long sleep.”
When talking to children in a religious context who ask this question, I say, assuming I have explained the concept of sin and Jesus’ sacrifice:
“The really cool thing about Jesus is that He died in our place, so that when we die we can go to Heaven and be with God. The Bible says Heaven is a really awesome place, with only good things. When our bodies die, our souls (the part of you inside that holds all your thoughts and feelings) go to Heaven. Our souls already know the way, so we don’t need to worry that we won’t know how to get there.”
Hidden questions (the real reason they’re asking) include: Will I know anyone in Heaven/the afterlife/where ever? Will you be there? Will I be lonely and afraid? How will I know how to get there?
2) Is the world going to end in December?
There are adults who have fallen for the hysteria surrounding this, so is it any wonder that children are falling for it? Yes, it is true that the 21st of December 2012 brings to a close the 13th Bak’tun, and almost 400-year long period in the Mayan long-count calendar. But this is like the year ending on our calendar. It’s the end of an old phase, and the beginning of a new one. There is nothing to suggest that it predicts either the end of the world, or a phase in which the world will decline to it’s eventual end. If you are still convinced that there is serious cause for concern, I point you back towards Y2K, when the new millennium was starting and everyone thought that the computers weren’t going to handle the changeover and subsequently the world was going to descend into chaos and then end. Or the countless times a “prophet” has predicted the coming of Christ, and then that day has passed like a normal day. Or the days dated 666 in some way.
With that in mind, I confidently tell children:
“When I was just a little bit older then you are, everyone thought the world was going to end because it was the new millennium and they were worried all technology would fail. I went to bed that night and I was so, so, so scared that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. But I woke up the next morning, and guess what! The world hadn’t ended! And the world isn’t going to end in December, either. Some people like to say they know when the world will end, but it never comes true. There is nothing to worry about.”
I say this which such confidence because not only is it probably not going to happen, but if it does we’re not going to know about it, because we’ll all be dead. Children don’t yet know how to discern truth from scare tactics from the media. They haven’t had enough life experience to know that predictions such as this don’t tend to result in the world’s end actually happening. The last thing they need is adults buying into the hysteria and scaring them more.
3) When will the world end?
This one usually directly follows the above question. If it’s not going to end this year, when will it end? Spiritually speaking, Jesus could come again at any time. But no one knows when that time will be. The Bible is very, very clear about that. A lot of Christians think that the time is near because current events seem to line up with the prophecies in the Bible. But they have done so since the beginning of time. You don’t think they thought the same thing in either of the World Wars? In the Dark Ages? During the periods of revolutions? The writers of the New Testament clearly thought it would happen any day. No body knows when Jesus will return. Physically speaking, when scientists say “soon,” they are talking within the context of several billion years. Remember that when reading about global warming, imminent eruptions, etc.
“No one knows exactly when the world will end, but chances are it won’t happen while you are still alive. It will probably be thousands of years from now.”
This question scares us all, because we don’t like the idea that we can’t control what will happen. I think that’s why people get so caught up in end-of-the-world predictions. If we can predict it, we can prepare ourselves. The world might end in December, but you might be in an accident and die next week and therefore never know about it. Worrying does nothing to prolong our lives. God knows what each one of our days holds, and no matter what happens between now and the end, all will be alright in the end.