When the World Is Too Scary for Supergirl: The Fear and Grief of an 8-Year-Old

Every week, our family gathers together on Sunday nights to watch Supergirl. We first fell in love with the series when our youngest daughter was nearly five years old. We wondered if the show might be too scary at times; however, she couldn’t get enough of it!

Our littlest girl, like her older sisters, has always been a huge fan of fantasy, adventure and Sci-Fi. My girls LOVE superheroes.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s Star Wars, Harry Potter, Star Trek, The Avengers, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther — they adore them all.

Our family – built through both adoption and biology — relates strongly to the adoption storyline of the Danvers sisters in Supergirl. I even took my girls to meet their beloved heroes Melissa Benoist (Supergirl/ Kara Danvers) and Chyler Leigh (Alex Danvers) at C2E2. My girls were profoundly touched by meeting Supergirl and Alex, and I’m grateful for the kindness the actresses showed to three little fangirls in Supergirl pajamas.

The show has been a continual source of delight and discussion. Each season, the plot has deepened and tackled new real-life issues in society. When Alex came out as a lesbian, it provided a forum for us to talk with our girls about all the ways that people can feel love for each other, along with the challenges of being different in our society. Some of these discussions have been very serious, and the girls welcome them.

In the current season, Supergirl has been tackling a growing anti-alien movement among humans. The plot is clearly reflecting much of the division and hatred that is plaguing America. The show has become intense and thought-provoking, and our girls have still clamored to watch it each week.

Then last week happened. In the real world, not the Supergirl world. On Wednesday, moments after trying to enter a predominantly Black church, a white supremacist gunned down two innocent Black people at a Kroger’s grocery store. He killed them simply because they were Black. And on Saturday, another white supremacist entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and slaughtered eleven innocent Jewish people. He killed them simply because they were Jews.

We don’t keep the news on in our house. As the horrors unfolded of back-to-back hate crimes in America, my first instinct was not to even tell my youngest about what had happened. She struggles with anxiety and has been prone to panic attacks since she was a tender six years old.

Yet I quickly realized that I would have to tell her. You see, we are Jews. And the very next morning, I would need to explain to her why there would be a police car protecting the Jewish children entering synagogue for religious school. I knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep if I told her at night, so I waited until the morning.

My older girls were shaken and able to handle the news. “Why were they killed?” my youngest asked. “Because they were Jewish, and some people hate Jews,” I answered. “The way that some people hate Muslims?” she said. “Yes, exactly like that,” I told her.

When it was time to go, our youngest screamed and cried that she didn’t want to go to Sunday school. I told her, “Daddy and I will both walk you in together. We are going to show the world that we will not stop being who we are. We are good people, and we will be there with you.”

My husband ended up having to carry her bodily out the door. “If you stay home, then the people who hate Jews win,” I explained. “We have to be brave and go together.” She calmed down in the car and seemed to be in good spirits as Sunday School began. Her third-grade class joined with the fourth-grade class to have a supportive conversation about the hatred in America and the recent killings of our fellow Jewish people in particular. Her oldest sister is a teacher’s helper in the fourth-grade class, and my youngest daughter climbed into her oldest sister’s lap for the duration of the discussion. “I felt safe in K’s lap,” she told me proudly.

Before we even finished dinner, our youngest was counting down the minutes until Supergirl started (7 pm Central). Partway through the episode, there was a scene where an angry mob of humans began beating up an alien after screaming, “Earth first!”

My youngest daughter completely lost it. She started wailing and crying in distress. “Why do they hate him just because he’s different? Why do they have to hurt him? It’s so scary. It’s so sad. It’s so intense. It’s so awful. Why do they want to hurt him when he didn’t do anything to them? WHY ARE THEY TRYING TO KILL HIM JUST FOR BEING DIFFERENT??”

It was very clear to me that she wasn’t talking about the show anymore. She was processing her grief and fear about our real-life society, about her own feelings of helplessness and terror. She began hyperventilating and collapsed in a sobbing heap on the floor. I brought her upstairs while the rest of the family watched the end of the episode.

It took me an hour of rocking her and talking with her to calm her down. “I feel so anxious!” she cried, as wave after wave of panic hit her. “Everything is so scary, and I can’t make it stop. And Supergirl isn’t here to make it better.”

My husband came in to help and we gave her paper to write out her feelings; we practiced meditation with her; I read stories to her and sang songs to her. Finally, finally, with both her dad and me sitting on her bed, she drifted off to sleep.

To our great sadness, we think that one of her favorite escapes – watching Supergirl – isn’t a good idea right now. It might be too triggering for her. I’m so sad about this, because she absolutely adores the Danvers sisters, and I know how much she looks forward to the show each week. It’s part of our family’s shared experiences.

But sometimes the world is too scary, even for watching Supergirl.

Carrie Goldman is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

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