Sunday Reflections: Talking to My Teen About Terrorism
The teen lives in a Paris themed bedroom. I tuck her into bed by pulling an Eiffel Tower blanket up to her chin and kissing her goodnight on the forehead. We dreamed of going to Paris this summer as a family for our 20th anniversary until we realized that people who struggle to feed their children don’t get to go to Paris, no matter how many years they have been married.
So Friday when I read the news about Paris I shut my laptop screen and I grabbed The Teen’s hand and we prayed. We prayed for peace. We prayed for healing. We prayed because it’s the only thing we knew to do and in that moment I felt the need to do something.
And as we prayed the tears streamed down The Teen’s face. The most sensitive soul I have ever met, she once burst into tears driving down the freeway when she saw a homeless man on the other side. She cried when she learned that a friend of hers was being bullied. She cries each time the world reminds her that life isn’t fair, that human being can suck, and people everywhere are struggling to just survive.
She comes by her sensitive nature honestly; I also am a crier. I want the world to be a better place. Even as I wrestle to make the food in my cupboards last just a few days more until the next payday, I cry because I know that I still come from a place of privilege; I, at least, have a loaf of bread and a thing of ham. We may be sick of sandwiches, but we’re not hungry; not the real deep down hunger of cramping bellies in the middle of the night.
So I had to figure out how and what, if anything, to share with The Teen about Paris. But the stakes are different now because she lives in the real world: She has a device, she gets on the Internet, she talks to people. The days of trying to protect her from horrifying news have long since passed and now all I can do is help her navigate the real world of information. I may not be able to protect her, but I can hold her when she cries and remind her that she is loved.
I can’t answer her questions of why . . . . I can’t understand having that much anger and hatred in your heart.
I can’t answer her questions of what we can do to help . . . . the truth is that we like so many others in this world often feel like we are just surviving. And even though the Internet can make the world seem like a small place, the truth is that in these moments I feel worlds away from Europe and the Middle East.
I can’t answer her questions of are we safe . . . . which is the goal of terrorism. I used to feel safe here in my little neighborhood until it was canvased with fliers from the KKK and I realized that there are people full of anger and hatred living right here behind closed doors in houses close to me. Seeing that hatred up close and personal changed the way I viewed my world, my neighbors.
Later that evening I would learn that it wasn’t just in Paris but that there had been other attacks. Beirut. Lebanon. Baghdad. And there were earthquakes in Mexico and Japan. I’m not going to lie, in that moment, I chose as a parent not to reveal the new information that I learned. Not because I didn’t care, but because I needed her for just a moment more to be able to snuggle in close to me and feel like she had a moment of safety in her mother’s arms. And yes, that too is a privilege so many people in our world today don’t have.
Like so many other things, there is no real guidebook for how to talk to your children about hard things. How do you talk to your child about terrorism? I don’t know. And I wish we lived in a world where I didn’t have to try to figure this out. But instead, tonight The Teen and I will pray for Paris. And I will pull up her blanket with the Eiffel Tower under her chin and it will mean something different. Tonight the blanket – and the world – feels less safe.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
SLJ Blog Network