So How DO You Talk To Children About 911?
The Big Question is STILL out there:
So how DO you talk to children about 911?
The issue bubbled to the forefront this week when the already-beset BBC had to remove a page from its website amid a raging controversy over bias.
So (to paraphrase a classic commercial) what’s a Mother (or Father) to do? Pajamas Media’s editor Aaron Hanscom has some extensive thoughts based on his experience and knowledge:
On September 11, 2001, I woke up to reports that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. A few hours later I was in front of my 5th grade class trying to explain the incomprehensible.
Many of my students had already seen television footage of the attacks while getting dressed or eating breakfast that morning. One boy asked me excitedly if I had seen â€œthe huge explosion in the big building.â€ It wasnâ€™t surprising that 10-year-olds would use the language of video games to try to make sense of something that shouldnâ€™t happen in real life.
During the morning assembly our principal opted for more restrained language. She called what happened a â€œtragedyâ€ not an attack, and spoke of those who â€œlost their livesâ€ instead of those who were murdered. While no member of the faculty yet knew who had taken control of those planes, it was immediately clear to all that the nation was under attack. Iâ€™m not suggesting that elementary school students should have been made aware of this fact. Indeed, I did my best to make sure they felt as safe as possible. Protecting their innocence was the one thing that kept running through my mind.
Looking back on that day six years later, I canâ€™t help but wonder how teachers discuss the anniversary in their classrooms. (Thatâ€™s assuming they mention it at all, which they didnâ€™t do this year at my younger brotherâ€™s Los Angeles high school.) In many ways, their challenge is much greater than mine was. We now all know that 19 radical Islamists hijacked those planes that Tuesday morning with the intention of murdering as many innocent Americans as possible. We also know that terrorists are not hesitant about slaughtering children to further their goals. Are we doing the next generation more damage by shielding them from the reality that the Western world faces ruthless enemies?
Read it all for his take on what to do.
Yours truly also does a lot of work with children and visits many schools (this is written from a hotel in Bakersfield, CA after doing a program in a school, and later today I will drive 2 hours to do a school show near L.A., then up to the San Francisco area to do two more school shows there). I talk to teachers and kids all the time. And here’s my take on it:
Adults make a fundamental mistake with kids.
Many adults do not remember their childhoods or they are so centered on the adult world that they push it out of their minds. If you talk to kids — including preschoolers — and really look into their eyes they are quite smart –smarter than my generation but that isn’t saying much since I’m a baby boomer and we are messing up the political process by remaining mired in 1960s battles and polarization camps and not proving to be..ahem.. stellar leaders in the world.
Kids are VERY MUCH aware. In my shows kids will sometimes shout out jokes that are way beyond their years (a great comment about a puppet on steroids came from a kindergarten student).
Kids are also fragile. Kids scare easily. But they hear their parents and siblings when CNN or Fox News is on. The new kids are born to be multi-taskers and intuitive about new technology. They’re not dumb and are often mistakenly treated as if they are unaware but friendly cats or dogs.
That being said, the BBC site apparently decided that the thrust of explaining 911 would be on the evil United States and Iraq policy and didn’t specify some key details about the mass murder event. That made that page political propaganda (it belonged more on a BLOG than on a website for kids).
Kids can and should be told in phrases that don’t terrorize them (since that is the goal of terrorists) what happened, what a surprise and shock it was, who the people were who did it and — very important– reassured that since that day the United States has been going after the bad guys and working at making sure this would not happen again.
It’s irrelevant whether the adult is a Democrat, Republican, independent, conservative or liberal: kids need to be told that the government is focusing on making sure the bad guys don’t get another chance and that this is going on now. And if a parent feels the government should be doing more or is doing a lousy job on terrorism, that isn’t what a child needs to be told. Because no matter what the party, governments will be working on this issue.
Kids will accept that.
History presented in terms that doesn’t terrorize them. An explanation that there are bad people out there. And being told that this is a problem the government no matter which part is in power, is continuing to work on.
Because that’s the way it IS – and WILL be: governments will be working on this problem for years to come. And perhaps one day, when the baby boomer generation and all of its deeply-rooted partisan and cultural hubris dies out with it, terrorism itself will be a topic that will be unfettered by partisanship.`