How Do You Talk To Your Kids About Terrorism?

I didn’t post a “What Would You Do?” post on Friday because it seemed frivolous after the attacks in Paris. Then, on Saturday morning I opened the Wall Street Journal and saw a photo of a person in a body bag on the cover of the newspaper and a more serious “What Would You Do?” question came to mind: What do you tell your kids about terrorism?

Images like the ones in the Wall Street Journal are everywhere. You can’t turn on a computer, look at a newspaper or turn on the TV without a graphic image of the recent attacks in Paris or Beirut or Nigeria cropping up. And kids are on line all of the time – being bombarded by headlines and images. The image of the person in a body bag was nothing compared to the images my 15-year-old has viewed on the Internet since the attacks.

So, what do you tell them?

My kids were pretty young when the attacks on 9/11 occurred. My older son was 5 ½ and my youngest was only 1 ½. I was watching the Today show the morning of the attacks and actually turned the TV on just minutes before the second plane hit the tower. My older son saw the attack in real time. At that moment I knew exactly what was happening but he didn’t. I thought it was best not to say anything because he was so young so I told him it was a plane crash in an effort to buy myself more time to come up with an explanation that would be age appropriate. Of course, I lost all control over the story once he went to school that afternoon. He heard different versions of the attacks depending on whose parents had told them what.

He came home thinking that Chicago had been attacked and that the planes were bombs.

I didn’t really know what to tell him that would be honest but not too frightening. I certainly didn’t want him to worry about boarding a plane or traveling into the city. I recall not saying much and hoping that because of his age he wouldn’t ask.

I have chosen, through the years, to be fairly matter-of-fact about the news, telling my boys what has happened but not giving them too much frightening detail. Usually they don’t ask too many questions, which I always viewed as a good sign. I should have realized that they were getting their information somewhere else and not discussing it with me.

A few days before the Paris attacks my 15-year-old and I were talking about a video game that he wants for the holidays. I said that it seemed pretty harsh and a little disturbing. “Not more disturbing then the real world,” he said. “This is make-believe. Shooting in movie theaters and schools is real.”

Wow. I didn’t even know that he thought about any of this.

Apparently he worries when we goes to a movie theater, not enough to stop him from going to the movies, but he said that the shooting in Aurora, Colorado is always on his mind when he walks into a theater.

I told him to always sit at the back of the theater and if anyone stands to face the audience he should duck. I thought if he had a plan it would ease his fears. I don’t think I helped.

I don’t want my boys to be afraid to go to a movie theater (or run a marathon, go to a soccer match, see a concert or fly in a plane). I have always talked about those incidents as if they are isolated events. Unfortunately, now it seems that every day brings a new threat and I clearly need to talk about it.

Just last night, my son brought up all of the flights that have been delayed or rerouted in the U.S. over the last couple of days. Of course, we are flying in a couple of weeks and, although my son didn’t say he was worried about it, I still attempted to allay any unspoken fears he may have.  “Little chance of anything happening on a flight to Missouri,” I told him.

“But we are flying out of Chicago,” he countered.

I said something about not living our lives in fear or the terrorists win. Although I do believe that sentiment, I knew it sounded dismissive; I just didn’t know what else to say.

I’m certainly not going to tell my kids to avoid crowds or events on the off chance that a terrorist is targeting that venue, but there is a part of me that wants to bubble wrap my kids and lock them up—keep them away from all danger.

As if that’s possible.

Parents in Columbine and Newtown and even in our small town outside of Chicago thought their kids were safe. All they did was send their kids to school – a place that is considered a safe haven – and the unthinkable occurred.

So, as the unthinkable continues to happen, what do you tell your kids? Do you keep them away from the news (easier when the kids are younger and you can control what they watch)? Do you change your plans? I have a few friends whose kids were planning to study in Paris next fall. At least one of the moms I talked to said she would not let her child go. What would you do? What would you tell your kids to keep them safe?

My older son wants to study abroad in Europe next fall as well. Initially he had suggested attending a program in a small town in Italy and I scoffed. “You want to be a in a big city! Go to Rome!” I told him. Now I’m not so sure. Sending him to a little town in the middle of nowhere sounds pretty appealing to me right now…

 

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