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Manchester attack: How do we support children and young people?

For many of our children and young people, the overnight attack at an Ariana Grande in Manchester, which left at least 22 dead, might be the first such event that feels ‘real’. 

While this generation has grown up flooded with images of devastation from around the world, there haven’t been any dominated by scenes of children. We haven’t seen screaming young people and parents fleeing a scene. We haven’t heard stories of British children dying. It hasn’t been those who look like our children and young people, at an event which they could have been at, sparking fear and concern. Many young people will have woken up this morning thinking, for the first time: “This could have been me.” In a world that seems terrifying, how can we support our children and young people? Here are a few ideas.

Listen

It’s really important to give children the chance to talk about events like this. This might be the first time they’ve ever really had to process something like this, and giving them the space to talk and grieve will stop them bottling it all up, give you the chance to know where they’re at, and let them know that their fears and concerns are valued.

Lord, would our children and young people find a listening ear for their worries and concerns today.

Talk

In times like this, we can default to trying to shield our children and young people from the rest of the world; we put on a brave face and keep our upper lip stiff.  But while the images are dominated by children, there’s also scenes of parents waiting for children to leave the concert. Perhaps for many of us, this might be the first time that this has hit home for us, as well as our children. With that in mind, it’s fine to let kids know that you’re scared and sad. It’s fine to let them know that the world is scary and not as it should be. It’s fine to let them know that you don’t understand how these things can happen.

Ian Hopkins, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police said this morning: “Terrorists will attempt to disrupt our lives and create distrust and fear in our communities. We have a long history here in Greater Manchester of our communities standing together in difficult times.” If this follows the trends of other similar incidents, over the next few days we’ll hear about division and, quite possibly, talk of one religion in particular. Times like this are a time for unity, not division. It’s important to let children and young people know that this isn’t an act of an angry god or a correct religion, but of a twisted person.

But while we can be real with young people, it’s also important to reassure them, to let them know that they’re safe and that God is with them in the darkest, scariest times, in fact perhaps especially in these times. While it’s fine to feel afraid, we know that God is with us. The world is a terrifying place at the moment, but our prayer is that this next generation would not be one characterised by fear. As John put it: “Perfect love drives out fear.”

In a broken, despair-filled world, may we choose hope, not fear today.​

Lord, may our children and young people know your love, not fear today.

Pray

Finally, let’s turn our attention to God; sometimes in these situations we might not feel like we have the words, but our kids might. The first thing I heard on the news this morning was an interview with 10-year-old Katy Walton who was at the concert: “I’m feeling sad that people have been put to risk for people being mean.”Let children pray, let them suggest what to pray for, give them the chance to pass their fears and worries over the God.

If you’re struggling with what to pray for, Pete Grieg’s tweet overnight has resonated with many and provides a helpful outline.

Manchester is a strong, vibrant city with a passionate Christian youth work community; our prayers are with the families impacted as well as church leaders, youth and children’s workers and the people of Manchester.



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