My daughter asks me about the Apocalypse. A lot, really.
It's a regular topic of conversation in our house.
She's 9 years old.
It is not a topic that I was prepared to address with my
fourth-grader. I guess I assumed I had more time or ... to be honest, I can't
remember ever sitting down with my
parents to ask questions about the end of the world. Who knew this was
something you had to talk with your kids about? I was so prepared to engage her
in productive conversations about sex, death, positive body image or online
predators that I just hadn't given much thought to putting together talking
points on The End of All Things.
Apparently, that was a mistake because kids find the concept
of Armageddon to be very, very interesting—at least, mine does. At bedtime one
night recently, she asked me what "post-apocalyptic" meant. I was taken aback,
but as I tried to explain it—and inquire where she'd heard that term—I started
to realize that the Apocalypse is everywhere lately.
What would happen to us? Or Grandma? Would we have to eat our dog to survive?
"The Walking Dead"
is one of the most successful TV shows in the past decade and—can I say—way,
WAY too many kids in my daughter's elementary school claim that their parents
let them watch it. (Really? REALLY?!)
Tween and teens love YA book and movies series like "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent," all set in the aftermath of a
complete societal collapse.
There are multiple children's book series set during wacky
zombie plagues, tons of families participate in survivalist training or
Zombie Runs and the next X-Men movie is even titled "X-Men:
As a society, we're OBSESSED with the end of the world. And,
as parents, that means that we get to field all the questions that come with
Will the planet die one day? When will the sun burn out? Can
we survive a nuclear bomb? Are zombies real? How fast can a virus spread? Why
do people want gasoline and water so badly after the Apocalypse? (To clarify, I
haven't let her watch "Mad Max," but
she seems to know quite a bit about it.) What would happen to us? Or Grandma?
Would we have to eat our dog to survive?
Yeah ... not the most fun questions to tackle at bedtime. The
larger questions are easier, particularly since zombies aren't actually real
and we've got a few billion years left on the sun, but the smaller questions,
the hypothetical questions, are harder. I'm mostly just watching my daughter tiptoe around
her own anxieties. I try to keep it light. We
will kick butt in Armageddon. You'll be a warlord. We will feed misbehaving
scavengers to the dog. But, at the same time, I do need to show her that I'm
taking her concerns seriously.
She is, essentially, asking me, "What will happen to us, if
the worst happens?" And, even though I know saying, "We will be fine," isn't very
helpful, the conviction that I put behind the words can mean everything. It can
mean the difference between a good night's rest and a week full of restless,
We have to take something as crazy as the end of the world and find a way to explain it so our children can wrap their heads around it.
But practical questions about nuclear fallout or gasoline
hoarding aren't nearly as bad as the questions about the WHY of the Apocalypse.
WHY would we let the world end? WHY do some people seem
excited about it? WHY are there so many books, movies and video games about
the worst case scenario? Is it because it's going to happen sooner than we
It's not easy to talk about stuff like that with a 9-year-old. You have to be honest—because I truly believe that kids can smell it when
you're not—but you also have to contextualize the hell out everything. You have
to separate the lies from the truth and teach your kids how to move forward
even in the face of some ugly truths.
This is our No. 1 job as parents. We have to take something as crazy as
the end of the world and find a way to explain it so our children can wrap their heads
I told her that there are MANY reasons why people love
talking about the end of the civilized world. Some just have to do with good
storytelling. All the best stories involve conflict, and what introduces more
conflict than putting familiar characters—i.e. people like us—into the most
extreme and impossible situation you can imagine? It makes for great TV (and mostly
But, yeah, not all of those situations are "impossible."
Sometimes, when people write about the Apocalypse, they're trying to make
people think about all of the issues in the world that we ignore on a daily
basis. If they write about a zombie plague, they might be calling our attention
to how much we rely on phones, supermarkets and everything else we take for
granted. If they write about a futuristic world where all the coastal cities
have flooded, they might be calling our attention to the impact of global
Who knows more about fear, anxiety and being ignored than children?
While stories like "The
Hunger Games" and "The Walking Dead"
aren't particularly likely, there are kernels of truth within them, which is
why they resonate so deeply. More than anything, those stories tell us what
people are afraid of, what gives them anxiety and what things in the world they
feel we shouldn't be ignoring. That's why people are so drawn to them.
And that explanation seemed to work for my daughter. She
understood that reasoning, which makes sense, because who knows more about
fear, anxiety and being ignored than children?
So, yes, one of your jobs as a parent will be explaining the
Apocalypse to your kids.
That sucks, right?
But keep in mind that past generations of parents had to
answer bedtime questions about Krampus or cholera or "Duck and cover," so we're
in good company.
The best we can do is try to be honest, acknowledge their
anxieties, admit our own and let them know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that
no matter what happens, as a family, we'll get through it together, even if it
means killing a whole buttload of zombies.