4 principles to remember when talking to your children about coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Add the coronavirus pandemic to the list of topics—like sexuality and transgender bathrooms—that we feel ill-prepared to talk to our children about. As parents, we don’t get to choose what subjects become forefront and relevant to our children’s lives. We are called to faithfully walk with our children through those subject matters.

Before we get into the details of the subject matter, let’s talk about four general wisdom principles for having difficult conversations with your children.

First, make sure you have a conversation, not a monologue. The “win” is the second conversation your child initiates. The best outcome from any difficult conversation we initiate with our child is that our child feels more comfortable having awkward conversations with us. Remembering this helps us stay out of professor-mode. You want to know what your child thinks as much as you want to tell them what you think (or at least you should).

Second, answer the questions your child is asking, not what’s important to you as an adult. The “win” is your child navigating their world better, not creating a rubric for evaluating political decisions. This might be as simple as asking your child, “You’ve probably seen the stories on TV about that new virus. What do you think about that?” You can also ask yourself, “When I was my child’s age, what would I want to know about the coronavirus?” Also, with this in mind, use language and examples that fit your child’s world and cognitive-social development.

Third, if you have multiple children, keep the grapevine game in mind. What you tell the oldest will get “translated” to the youngest. We all know we want what we share to be age appropriate, but that gets complicated in a home with multiple children. Unless there is a strong reason to do otherwise, talk to your children together.

Fourth, remember your body language and tone will communicate more than your words. Your nonverbal communication will influence your child’s emotions more than your words. Be relaxed and conversational. Imagine how you would tell them that a family member died, and then, don’t do that. Children use the sense of alarm in their parents to gauge their own sense of alarm.

These principles should help us form the conversation with our children by asking, “What do my children want to know?” Chances are that it's things like:

Helping our children put their questions and emotions into words is part of our role as parents. It is part of helping them mature. Again, the interaction during the conversation is as valuable as any of the content that we impart to them.

I will try to develop some sample dialogue for each of the questions above.

Am I safe? Is our family safe? “Yes, we are safe. Even if you get sick, the virus is a lot like having the flu for young, healthy children like you. That’s not fun, so we want to make wise choices like washing our hands and limiting how much we’re around people who may be sick. For older people, the virus can be more serious. That’s why schools and other organizations are being cautious. They want to prevent us from spreading it to the most vulnerable people.”

Why is this a big deal? How scared should I be? “It’s a big deal because it's new. It always takes a little while to learn how to treat a new disease. Doctors are still learning the best ways to treat people who get this one. While most people who get the virus get better on their own, doctors want to make sure they know how to care for the people who need help to getting better. We don’t need to be scared, but we do want to be wise. The things we’ve talked about—like washing our hands and avoiding places where people may be sick—should keep us safe as doctors learn how to treat the virus.”

As parents, we don’t get to choose what subjects become forefront and relevant to our children’s lives. We are called to faithfully walk with our children through those subject matters.

How long will this last? When will I get to go back to school? “I don’t know. Does it make you feel better to know there are questions that mommy/daddy don’t know the answer to either [smile]? Having to say ‘I don’t know’ doesn’t go away just because you get older. Schools will make the decision they think is best. Big groups like schools, usually play it safe. So, you don’t have to worry about them opening back up too soon.”

Why is this getting so much attention and causing everything to shut down? “This is a way to love people who aren’t as young and healthy as you are. Jesus tells us that we need to care for people who are vulnerable. By doing what we can to slow down the spread of the virus—like closing school—we help the doctors learn how to treat the virus. The people on TV are just trying to make sure the doctors have the time they need and get as many people to cooperate as possible. After all, how many times does your teacher at school have to say something for the class to follow along . . . and there are only 20 of you [smile].”

After the conversation ends, pray for people making decisions. Pray in the same way you had the conversation above, in words appropriate for your child’s age and toward your child’s concerns. This is a time when you are teaching your child what it's like to pray about the things that concern them as a five-, seven-, or 12-year-old.

You might pray something like this, “God, thank you for making our bodies and knowing how they work. Thank you for loving us when we’re healthy and when we’re sick. Because you love the people who are sick, we ask that you help the doctors learn how to treat the coronavirus. Lord, help us to enjoy this extra time at home and love one another well even if we get a little bored.”

This article originally appeared here

Brad Hambrick

Brad serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in  Durham, North Carolina. He also serves as Instructor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and has authored several books including Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24