When my 12-year-old son asked me why the French flag appeared on Google last Friday, I knew I had to muster the best of my parenting skills to carefully answer his question.
This led me to thinking: With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, just how much awareness should children have of what is going on in the world?
Ginny Goodwin, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and the director of Burbank’s Family Service Agency, advises that parents consider a child’s age and maturity when discussing these events.
“Withholding information needs to be considered [including] limiting television viewing and protecting them from images” especially for youngsters, Goodwin said.
For more social media savvy teens, parents should “answer questions and help them process their fears and concerns.”
“Children need to feel secure, that adults have some control [and that] our country is working hard to protect all of us,” added Goodwin.
Parents need to understand that their children may pick up on their own fears so it’s important not to share such anxieties within “earshot of children.”
I remember on the morning of the 9/11 attacks, my wife and I made sure not to watch television until we dropped off our two-year-old at his daycare center. When I picked him up that afternoon, I was aghast that the teacher and aides were talking about the planes hitting into the buildings right in front of the kids. I told the center’s director about the inappropriateness of doing that.
LMFT Samantha Bookman of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills agrees that “it is imperative [parents] be highly vigilant about what adult conversations are happening within earshot of kids and not show their anxiety in front of them.”
“They are always listening, even when they don’t seem to be paying attention,” Bookman said.
Additionally, since “children and teens have an under-developed pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain behind the forehead which calm fears,” explained Bookman, absorbing “scary information can be overwhelming and debilitating.”
The fears that exist today about unexpected horror that could happen in a flash harken back to what earlier generations must have felt during the Cold War with the potentiality of a nuclear holocaust hanging in the air.
Even today’s lockdown drills are reminiscent of the Duck and Cover drills school children practiced in the event of a nuclear attack during the 1950s and 1960s.
It makes one wonder when was the last time an American generation did not have the sense that the world could end or at least turn upside down in a moment.
I asked history professor Christopher Endy of Cal State Los Angeles this question.
“The 1920s and 1930s were the last decades when Americans felt free from fear of widespread catastrophic attack,” said Endy. When relations with the Soviets “soured in the late 1940s . . . Americans’ fears increased dramatically.” And have remained so ever since.
While we can’t control what course of action governments undertake to combat the threat of terrorism, experts say that the average citizen’s best action is to go on with normal activities while being vigilant.
“There is risk in our lives every day . . . but we forget about it so that we can live our lives happily,” said Bookman. “And guess what? We are almost always just fine.”