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Parents, Children and 9/11

What children don't need to know just yet

I was born and raised here in Rockland County, and I was educated and worked in Manhattan. I consider myself a New Yorker before any other ethnicity. I'm married to a career firefighter and my brother is a NYS paramedic. And still, I have not explained the events of 9/11 to my kids. Call me a rotten citizen, but I just don't think my first grader and her younger sister need to know—yet.

When it comes to most significant aspects of society, I try to take things head on. Prejudice is a hard one, and I'll admit that explaining Martin Luther King Day was a challenge. So was the excitement over legalizing gay marriage. Civil rights are tricky to discuss with a five-year-old because though justice is an amazing thing, she has no concept of prejudice—she just can't wrap her head around why the gay mommies of her friends weren't allowed to be married; why African Americans, Native Americans or women weren't always equal is unfathomable to her. The injustices in our society are hard to explain, but I'm comfortable with her knowing about them.

The purity of my five-year-old's innocence is something I'm reluctant to shatter, though. The longer she can trust that the world is a safe place, the better. My job is to teach her that the majority of the people on this earth are here to love and be good to one another. So, how can I explain 9/11? That level of hatred toward the US? The concept of terror? Mass casualty? Nations at war?

I consider myself lucky that I’m still able to control the messages she receives. With a five- three-year old, the media in our house is still parentally controlled. The only wild card is what she’ll hear from school. I trust they’ll tread lightly.  

I have another reason why we haven't talked about 9/11 with our kids: when their dad snuggles them into bed and kisses them goodnight, he then heads off to work to fight fires. They understand what he does for a living—they also understand that they should never play with fire because it is dangerous.

343 firefighters and paramedics died trying to save people on 9/11. I can't explain to my children why those first responders died. I hope never to have to explain how they died. 

On most things I don't prefer to keep my kids ignorant, but on this one, I'm okay with holding off for as long as I can. For now, my  children live in a world of bouncy trampolines and puffy clouds—the biggest injustice is who gets the bigger slice of ice cream cake. Their world's greatest evil is “blood sucking mosquitoes.” They've got their whole lives to worry about grown up things. For now, I prefer to let them be children.

Emily September 13, 2011 at 03:14 PM
Great piece. A friend of mine from high school has been posting on fb about all the stuff her first grade son is coming home with from public school in Brooklyn about 9/11. She is so distraught as is he - he's simply not ready to process it yet. I think there's a time and place for educating young people about this but 1st grade is sooo young.
Helen September 13, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Beautifully written Leanne, and I agree whole-heartedly.

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