When is it time to introduce kids to tragic and horrific events

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Sep 15, 2011

As was the case with millions of people around the world on September 11, 2011, I spent some time not only remembering the tragic and horrific events of September 11, 2001 but also watching the various news channels who were airing tributes and re-broadcasts of the actual live newscasts that took place that day. I also watched a brilliant documentary that was created by a team of French brothers who originally were making a film to chronicle the life of a “Pro-b” (a new fire-fighter) that turned into a very powerful and highly emotional documentary of a fire station’s involvement with the events as they unfolded that day.

I was sitting in the living room of our house and my older daughter came in to ask me what I was watching. I told her and asked her if she would like to watch with me. I had reminded myself that Molly was only 3 when the terrible day took place. Back then, I was not burdened with the need to explain to her what was happening because she was too young to comprehend it.

But now, she is 13…soon to be 14. She is old enough and mature enough to start knowing about the darker sides of life.

We sat together, munching on some popcorn and I began to provide color commentary about where I was that day and what I was feeling and what we were doing as a family. She asked me questions
about what she was seeing…her beautiful brown eyes glued to the television screen.

There were horrific images and disturbing sounds of people jumping from the towers and the sound of their bodies as they made contact with the ground and images of what looked like an apocalypse; things that my daughter had ever only really seen in movie theatres when we reminded her that they were Hollywood-made and totally fictional.

This was the real deal.

I encouraged her to ask me any questions that she might have…after all, how does a young person comprehend a history-making event like 9/11? How does her mind process it?

No surprise…later that night she woke up around midnight from a bad dream. She wound up sleeping on the floor next to our bed and eventually made her way back to her room for the rest of her sleep.

While there are many amazing things to witness and celebrate about life…there are unfortunately, many other things that we must struggle through as well. As parents, we always try to protect our children from those aspects of life…from violent images on television, from inappropriate language, from getting involved with the wrong kinds of people that might expose our children to bad things, from having to deal with the loss of a loved one.

At what point do we, as parents, begin to expose our children to these kinds of images and events? We can’t protect them forever…they have to, at some point, realize that part of living includes being exposed to or becoming aware of these kinds of human events.

I emphasized to my daughter the importance of not being afraid…not restricting any aspect of her life for fear that something horrible might happen. I reminded her that her mother and I are always around to answer or help explain things to her and that fear or anxiety are emotions that are unavoidable but are totally controllable by maintaining a positive and optimistic outlook towards life. I also reminded her about the importance of family and relationships and never going to sleep angry or never taking others for granted.

I reminded her of a lot that afternoon.

There are far greater awesome things about life then there are bad things. But, with the good..sometimes comes the bad.

As for my 10 year old, she had no interest in watching any of these television shows or seeing these images. I never asked her if she wanted to watch…she made it abundantly clear by her absence that she was much happier making bracelets from embroidery string and watching Family TV then watching coverage of the anniversary of September 11th.

As we move past the anniversary of this event, chances are, my 13 year old has moved passed it as well. Unfortunately, there are many who are living that day over and over as if it happened yesterday. I wish for those people that they are able to find inner peace…to know that as a society, we will all remember them, their innocence, their greatness and that they will never be forgotten.

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