We asked Betsy Brown Braun, author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents for her expert advice on the situation...
"Adults, anyone who was breathing on September 11 will be jarred if not shocked by that billboard. Not only is the message questionable at best, but the image of the World Trade Center being hit is terrifyingly powerful; it conjures up painful memories. But for the young child, especially one under 10 years old, the image of the building being hit is likely just to raise questions about the photo and what the words mean, none of which is accompanied by a heavy memory or questions that will be hard to explain. Kids who are now 10, were only 3 years old at the time, after all."
- For the young child, 6 years old or younger: When (and only IF) he notices the billboard and asks "Mommy, what is happening there? Is that a plane crash?" the child needs his question answered. "Yes. That is something that happened a long time ago. What does it look like to you?" Confirm what he is seeing; just answer his questions without any embellishment or historical fact, and let it drop. (For answers to questions and scripts for talking with kids about terrorism, you can see Chapter 11 in my book, which deals with answering children's questions about natural disasters, terrorism, and war.)
- Responding to the older child who sees this billboard: This is a great deal more complicated because of the message. When older children notice this billboard (or even ones who read it but may have no knowledge of 9/11) it is an opportunity, a teachable moment. Depending upon the parent's beliefs, here is your chance to express your opinion, whatever it may be. Children want to know what their parents think. It is from parents first that they form their opinions and develop their values. (I personally, resent the implication that there is a connection between voting for Democrats and the safety of our country.)
- The opportunity here: There is a lesson in media literacy and manipulating the public. Children need to learn to really read the message of billboards and other advertisements. By appealing to your feelings, scaring you, for example, they are trying to get you to do something. In this case, it is to vote Republican. There is always a message beyond the pictures and the words. So what do you think they are trying to tell people in that billboard? (Mommy says, "I think he is trying to make you think that if you vote for Democrats, bad things will happen in our country--that we won't be safe. They are trying to scare us into voting for Republicans. What do you think of that?" etc...)