Friday, September 11, 2009

Don't Talk To Your Kids About 9/11/01

Every year around this time, I see a dozen blog posts and magazine articles on "How to talk to your kids about 9/11." No, really. A Google Search reveals 19,500,000 articles. No kidding.

Here's the thing. If your kids are approximately the ages of my kids (4 and 2.5 - born in 2005 and 2007) I can sum up all 19,500,000 of those articles in one word.


9/11 was the defining moment of this decade, the same way that Kennedy's assassination defined the 1960s. My parents' generation remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when Kennedy was assassinated, the same way I remember every detail of 9/11, from the smell of the air to the weather to the conversations I had in class that day.

But stop a minute and think about how you felt to hear your parents talk about the Kennedy assassination when you were a kid... Did you understand? Did you really get it, or was it just a bit of trivia for you to take to history class? I know that when my parents talked to me about it, I felt sad that they were sad about it. I know that they tried to convey what that day was like to me, but they couldn't.

It was their tragedy, not mine.

And if your kid was born in 1995 or later, 9/11 is not his tragedy. (I'm figuring kids who were six when it happened were in school, so they may have some memory of it).

He isn't going to "get it."

So don't burden him with it.

Now, of course, if you knew someone who was killed that day, of course you're going to talk about that person, just like you would if they'd died in a car accident or of a heart attack. Of course, if you live in New York or D.C., and reminders of what happened are going to be all around, you're going to have to talk about what happened. Of course, if your child's school does some sort of memorial service or moment of silence, they're going to have questions, and it's probably a good idea to prepare them in advance. I strongly encourage you to keep it as brief as possible. "A really sad thing happened 8 years ago today that affected a lot of people, and when things like that happen, people like to remember with a (memorial service), (moment of silence), (flag at half staff), (etc.)."

I do not think that you should go into the politics or the particulars, even with an older child. As we generally do when it comes to the sex talk, I think you should answer their questions directly and briefly, only give them the information they're asking for, and distract them with ice cream as soon as possible.

But if your kids are young, like mine, and if you live in the midwest, as we do, I am giving you permission to not talk about it. Turn off the TV and pretend it never happened. We live in such a Dr. Phil society, where everyone has to "talk everything out," and "express their feelings" and "get closure" and all of that b.s. I know there's more than one parent out there who feels like she should tell her young children what happened. But don't. Resist the little Dr. Phil in your head telling you that you have to verbally vomit every thought that enters your head. Some things are better left unsaid. Your young kids don't need this information, not yet.

Because you know when they'll remember the conversation? Right after they've closed the door of the airplane on your flight to your vacation.

What do you think? Am I completely wrong? How old are your kids, and how are you handling this discussion with them today? Let me have it in the comments...


RobMonroe said...

Thank You! I agree wholeheartedly. Abby is too young anyway, but once she is old enough we may very well volunteer with others (as it's supposed to be a day of volunteerism) but our focus will be on that, not on the tragic events of the day.

Charlotte said...

Well, Konrad's school has a ceremony every year where they lower the flag at half staff and the fire department shows up.

If he has questions about it afterwards, we talk about it but I don't bring it up.

He mostly says that it was sad that people died tried to save other people and I agree and talk about what great heroes.

So I don't mind that the school focuses on the "heroes" of that day part of it.