My daughter is five, and I have not told her about 9/11 yet. (Rare restraint on my part, I know.) I’m not sure when I should tell her, or how I would do so, but I know one thing: she’ll know before she gets to middle school.
I gave a few minutes of my lesson to the topic today, and I was surprised that some of my students were unaware of the attacks and their significance. Now, these kids weren’t born on that day in 2001, so I expect some gaps in their knowledge, but to know nothing? Really? How does that happen?
Maybe it’s just never come up. Their families don’t watch the news or listen to the radio or read newspapers or have Internet access. Maybe they’ve heard and just didn’t pay close attention. Or maybe the parents actively kept this from the children. I’m not sure.
I feel strongly, though, that keeping children isolated from scary news is counter-productive. You are delaying the inevitable, and in the process you are potentially losing control of how your child will hear the news. You could ease them into it, or maybe they’ll see United 93 on TBS some night while you’re upstairs watching football and they’ll dissolve into an anxious puddle.
More importantly, understanding our shared national history is an important part of developing as a functioning citizen. Our past is full of horrors–from Columbus butchering the Arawaks to slavery and the Civil War to Japanese internment camps to, yes, September 11th. The world is fucking dangerous, and we happen to live in a rare moment of relative safety, but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way, or that our ignorance of suffering eliminates it.
If you are old enough to remember 9/11, you probably also remember the wide-eyed Why do they hate us? hand-wringing where people who never paid attention to anything beyond their local news reports scrambled to figure out what terrorism was and why it happened to us. These people had seemingly never thought about the potential consequences of America’s foreign policy. They didn’t spend time thinking about US support for Third World dictators or CIA-backed coups or arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan. That stuff’s sad! Let’s watch Touched By an Angel instead!
These uninformed folks drove giant SUVs because gas was cheap (and always will be!) and voted based on who they wanted to have a beer with. Their refusal to engage with the difficulties and dangers of the world indirectly contributed the conditions that allowed al-Qaeda to thrive in the first place.
What I’m trying to say is that kids need to know hard truths. We have to talk to them, pull back the curtain on the world, and help them grow up to be aware and involved. It’s not easy, but they need us, as parents, to guide them through the hard stuff as best we can. Our job isn’t to hide the pain from them but to give them the tools to deal with it.