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9/11 Anniversary: Talking to Kids about Terrorism

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Jennifer Ginsberg:This9/11, many parents will be wondering how to talk to their children about terrorism. For children who were not yet born or are too young to remember that fateful day nine years ago, questions may still arise, as the day will be commemorated in the media and they will likely overhear people recounting the horrors that occurred.

world trade center

Let's face it: Terrorism is an awful subject. None of us wants to have to even mention something so incomprehensibly terrible to our children, let alone have an in-depth discussion about it. But if you avoid bringing up the topic with your children, you may inadvertently create more anxiety by reinforcing the idea that it is too scary to even broach. By not shying away from the difficult questions, you will let your children know that they can express their concerns without you dismissing them. You will provide a safe space for them to simply be heard.

Of course, our instinct as parents is to protect our children at all costs. However, given the frightening nature of terrorism and the shadowy nature of its architects, it may be impossible to absolve their fears entirely. I don't advocate lying to children, but you may have to get creative to find a way to discuss this without inciting unnecessary anxiety. By letting your children know that you will always be there for them and do everything in your power to keep them safe, you will acknowledge their fears without sugarcoating the facts.

With my own children, I intend to make it clear that I reject the idea that Islam itself is inherently the problem, since I know that many Muslims are good neighbors and upstanding citizens -- not to mention supporters of democracy.

However, I do realize that, at locations all around the world, violence has been -- and in some places, is being -- committed against innocent people by Muslim extremists, in the name of Islam. I will not bury my head in the sand and deny that harsh reality out of political correctness -- especially for the sake of my children.

One jumping-off point for discussion is the debate over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero. Older children have undoubtedly heard about this, as media outlets have saturated us with heated reports and contradictory information.I would take this opportunity to talk to my children about the concept of religious pluralism. While it is vital to uphold freedom of religion, it is another matter if there are grounds for suspicion that this Islamic center will be used to recruit, justify or incite terrorism. You can let your children know that these are tough questions that don't have simple answers.

You can ask older children their opinions on the matter. Is it inappropriate or insensitive for downtown Manhattan -- the scene of the worst terror attack in U.S. history -- to house a mosque whose leader has yet to denounce the deliberate murder of almost 3,000 people via suicide terror?What is the potential downside? Is there anygood that could come from having a mosque in that location?

I would tell my children that Muslims in the U.S. who support the values of religious pluralism and freedom have the right to build a community center anywhere, including the proposed site near Ground Zero. However,I would not withhold the fact that I am disturbed by the ideological ambiguity of the leaders of this particular project, and their reticence to denounce terrorism.

I would also talk to my children about the importance of having integrity, even when one's ethical stance goes against the popular opinion. History reminds us that evil triumphs when good people remain silent. For the most part, the American Muslim community has been alarmingly quiet about their stance on Islamic terrorism, in my opinion. I can only believe that most Jews, Protestants and Catholics in their position would be blasting their condemnation from the rooftops.

You can let your children know that if their teacher, coach or clergyperson says or does something that seems inappropriate or just plain wrong, they are not only allowed, but obligatedto speak up. You can remind them that people -- even friends they trust and those in positions of power -- will occasionally make missteps. Inaction and silence only perpetuate such wrongdoing.

Above all, emphasize that you will always support your children when they tell the truth. Remind them that their safety is the most important thing to you. By having an honest and thorough discussion, it will be made clear that while Islamic fundamentalism is being used in many places around the world to incite violence -- and it is important to ask questions and acknowledge this deadly trend, so that the free world can defeat it -- it is never acceptable to have prejudice against a group of people or a religion as a whole.


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32 comments so far | Post a comment now
helen September 10, 2010, 11:37 AM

It might also be worth mentioning, if the issue of religion (ANY religion) comes up, that even modern day terrorism is not exclusively committed by Muslims. What comes to mind to me is “the Troubles” and the IRA. I know this was hinted at in the article, stressing that Muslim is not equal to terrorist, but I think it’s worth more explicitly mentioning that terrorist acts historically have been and currently are committed by people of varying backgrounds/religions/nationalities.

Who knows, especially with older kids, this could lead to an interesting discussion.

Heather September 10, 2010, 11:38 AM

An excellent piece—helpful and balanced. The latter virtue—balance—is rare in discussions of this important subject. Brava Ms. Ginsberg for writing with such integrity and candor.

helen September 10, 2010, 11:38 AM

It might also be worth mentioning, if the issue of religion (ANY religion) comes up, that even modern day terrorism is not exclusively committed by Muslims. What comes to mind to me is “the Troubles” and the IRA. I know this was hinted at in the article, stressing that Muslim is not equal to terrorist, but I think it’s worth more explicitly mentioning that terrorist acts historically have been and currently are committed by people of varying backgrounds/religions/nationalities.

Who knows, especially with older kids, this could lead to an interesting discussion.

@mychildsmommy September 10, 2010, 6:31 PM

I was reading & saying ‘yes!’, “so right”, ‘agreed’ after almost every graf. We must do our best to educate our kids on all current subjects. Bad things don’t go away just because we don’t mention them, and as long as we start the conversation we have the chance to prepare our kids before someone else does.

Thu September 11, 2010, 12:20 PM

I liked this piece until the biased-opinion came thru in Paragraph 7! You might try to guise yourself as being understanding, but your questions are feeding your kids the answer (“inappropriate or insensitive” both negative words and no positive choice!). As for denouncing this terrorist act (that killed not only Christians, but also Muslims), being a Muslim means denouncing it! They were all innocent lives and Islam forbids killing innocent people.

And do you honestly “believe” that Jews are “blasting their condemnation from the rooftops”??? I see that the terrorism being conducted by the Israelis is STILL GOING ON. Where is the condemnation THERE?

Mommyof4 September 19, 2010, 1:49 PM

I agree there should be condemnation from the Muslim community, what I disagree with is your statement that there was not. I believe they were shouting it from the rooftops but were given next to no media coverage of their expression of condemnation. Living in an area where there is a large Arab and Muslim population, I personally heard and saw outward and outspoken condemnation from our Muslim community. I will personally teach my children that the official explanation from our government of what happened that horrible day is not only incomplete but some of it blatently false. I will also show them video of the 5 Israelis (Mossad Agents) that were caught red handed filming the event they later claimed on Israeli TV “We were there to ducument the event.” Not saying whole heartedly that Israel is to blame, but they knew, so why not warn us? Why were there explosives planted and just how did they get there? Why was building 7 taken down and how did the explosives get in there for such a quick demolition? I think before we teach our children “the facts” we should first know what exactly the facts are.

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