Question: How do we explain this to post-9/11 children?

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Pres. Obama last night announced that Osama bin Laden was killed in a raid on a compound in Pakistan.

The initial U.S. reaction was celebratory. People partied in the streets outside of the White House.

There are a lot of young people in these photos. Probably a lot of students from Georgetown, a lot of young professionals who were up late.

I remember where I was on Sept. 11, 2001. I was at school. It happened during my first period class, then I went to lunch, and when I got to Earth-Space Science the Twin Towers were falling on TV. I didn’t understand. I thought we were going to be talking about gravity and its effects via a fun lesson using demolition as an example. My enthusiasm for what I thought was going to be a lesson was shut down quickly by my teacher, who already had expressed his dislike for me and what he declared my “incredible ability to put science on the back burner.” (I hated him so much.)

This was tenth grade. I was cognizant enough to know the differences in national emotion. It was like someone snapped their fingers and, suddenly, everything changed. I turned 16 about two months later, and I remember reading 9/11-related news the morning of my birthday. I also remember the night after the towers fell. I remember moving a TV into my room to watch round-the-clock coverage on MSNBC. I watched Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw with a sense of complete awe — part of the reason I decided to go into journalism.

Many of these kids look like they’re 18. I would estimate that on 9/11, they were between 7 and 9 years old. They may have a pretty good idea of what life was like before 9/11. They may remember their parents being emotional, watching the news, stowing away the newspaper the next morning in a safe place. Children in New York understand this well, I’m sure, as do those in Washington, D.C.

But I guarantee there are kids here in Florida who can’t comprehend the real, powerful emotions people feel when hearing that Osama bin Laden is dead. There are kids in elementary school today who can’t understand why their teachers are sneaking looks at the news on their cellphones, or keeping one tab of an internet browser open on CNN. There are kids who heard their parents cheer when the news broke last night and, roused from sleep, asked for an explanation.

But how do you explain something like that to a child? How can you justify being jubilant when you hear the news that someone has died? How are parents handling this? You have to be handling it somehow; it’s the top story on the news, and it’s on every newsstand, and there’s no way they haven’t seen it or heard it from friends.

Do you tell them the back story? Do you explain the event of 9/11 first to put the current situation in context? When you tell them, do you tell them about the people falling from the towers before the towers themselves crumbled to the ground? Do you gauge how much you can tell them by their age, or do you assume they’ll learn about it later anyways? When you come to today, do you first ask how much they know? Do you show them Pres. Obama’s address? Do you let him tell your children, because you’re too speechless to say it yourself?

I’m asking these questions not to be critical, but to get a better idea of how parents are handling this. As someone who only has had pets, I can’t comprehend the difficulty of being in this situation where there are images of people partying — revelry in the streets — and it’s in response to the news of someone’s death. I have so much sympathy for parents trying to deal with this right now.

It’s a huge event, sure to be in history books in the future, and obviously it’s important to put it into perspective for the little ones. So how is that achieved? It’s a question I can’t answer, and I think it certainly is one with which we’ll struggle more as this war continues.

3 responses to “Question: How do we explain this to post-9/11 children?

  1. Wow. Kristina this should make Freshly Pressed. This is brilliant. Well written and well thought. Wow. Mind if I share this on my FB page?
    Seeing the ‘celebrators’ I also noted their age and wondered where they were when … I am thankful my kids are 6 and under. Clueless as to what has occurred.
    I’m torn with my own feelings. Am I glad he is dead. Yes. He was evil. Does this conflict with my ‘Christianity’? Perhaps. But God is not going to spare the Devil. Is He? I believe Osama Bin Laden had devil qualities. Yes, I remain torn with my own feelings. So glad I read your post. Did I mention it was well done?

    • Thank you so much for your reply. I was so worried people wouldn’t understand what I was trying to say. When the adults are conflicted, how do they explain that? Emotional confusion is something children can’t really grasp. I feel the same way in terms of my faith: bin Laden was an awful man, but was it our right to punish him, or should God have done the work? It’s a line of discourse I’m sure many Christians will undertake, and it’s something I still am trying to understand.

      Definitely feel free to share this. I would be honored. :o)

  2. Very on point post. It is difficult to explain any day with an impact on human life like 9/11 on the very young. Please read my post as well. I take a different tact. I agree with everything you have said, but I don’t personally believe that Osama is dead. Whi haven’t we been shown any proof when in so many military conflict the US has documented evidence. Something not right here.JMHO.

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