Saturday, September 11, 2010

When Do You Tell Kids About September 11?

On this, the 9th anniversary of the terror attacks on 9/11/01, my 2 year 5 month old son was rather captivated by the review of the events on television. While I am aware that he doesn't really understand anything beyond the pictures he saw, it was difficult for me to see him watch.

This boy is, as I think most his age are, fascinated by airplanes, police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. On top of that, a favorite video to watch at Grammy's house is one of demolition crews destroying tall buildings.  The images chosen for this morning's broadcast were right up his alley.

So there we were: I was watching the news while he played with his Cars movie cars. Suddenly our attention was glued to the television. He even pulled his step-stool over in front of the screen to sit on and watch, which he doesn't even do to watch Cars! I offered my commentary but he was more vocal: "Airplane crashed." "Fire truck!" "Building fall down!"

In such a manner can only a child summarize those hours.

No, he didn't show happiness at the destruction of the Twin Towers; his were simply statements of fact to show me he knew what he was seeing.

All I could do was choke back my own emotions as I watched him see this tragedy for the first time. Some parents might have turned the channel, but I decided he wouldn't remember this next year as he's still a little young (and with Mommy upstairs, my decision actually stood!). Next year, however, will be the 10 year anniversary with, I'm sure, special commemoration events throughout the weekend. He will also have reached an age at which he might not understand much more, but at the very least he will remember seeing it if we allow him to watch.

Will watching the attack play out be any more traumatizing to young children than being told to "duck and cover" for decades on end through the Cold War? At what point can a child be expected to be able to understand what happened when scores of thousands of adults cannot grasp why it happened? The American Academy of Childhood & Adolescent Psychiatry advises that "parents, teachers, and caring adults can help by listening and responding in an honest, consistent, and supportive manner."

If left to my own devices, I would not prevent my children from seeing the events of that day. When he starts asking questions about it all, for better or worse, I intend to answer his questions honestly without hiding any of the controversies that rage about the causes and motivations behind the terrorists that attacked us. Children are far more resilient than we credit them to be.

But I'm not left to my own devices but rarely, so it will be interesting to see when we expose our kids to this and other world issues. Leave a comment with how old your kids are and when you plan/did tell them. What did you tell them?

1 comment:

  1. Dorothy wasn't much interested after she and Addison watched some of the memorial service on CNN. Addison was jolted a bit when she heard the girl (aged about 16) talk about how much she missed her Daddy... I told her she was 7 when the tragedy happened. She asked what happened, so I showed her. While Dorothy chose to play in the next room, Addison and I watched the news archive starting at 8:30 AM. She was excited to see so many people outside of the NBC studio, and Willard Scott's birthday wishes to the old folks. She then listened attentively when they cut away from an interview to make their first report. When the second crash and explosion happened, she jumped a little, but watched intently on the replay. She then understood why so many people died and why the day was so very somber.

    We had a long day at the park planned, so I asked them to make sure to stay close and listen for any instruction I would give them. If I were to tell them to do something urgently, to do it and not ask questions ---- just in case something did happen on the ninth anniversary... They agreed and partially understood the gravity of my request... I hope I never have to follow through on that aspect of parenting...

    It was a gorgeous day, as it always is on September 11. I pray for the victims of the attack and their families to be consoled, and for the perpetrators to find the courage to repent and face their consequences...