Tag Archives: terrorism

Talking To Children About Evil

My daughter came home from school yesterday and told me that her best friend had a “hate list.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a list of all the people in the world that she hates.”

“Don’t make one yourself,” I said quickly. “That’s not nice.”

“Yeah, but I only have one person on it,” she responded.

“I don’t care. You’ll hurt someone’s feelings.”

She looked up at me, wide-eyed. “But it’s Hitler.”

Pause.

At first – of course – I laughed. But then I kept on thinking about it and I realized that not everyone would find it funny that their six-year-old knew about Hitler. I remember once writing a post about talking to your kids about death, which dealt with my (failed) attempts to explain death in any meaningful and convincing way to my then five-year-old daughter. The post also touched upon our visit as a family to The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. And I got more than a few comments from people who thought that it was really bad parenting on my part to have exposed such a young child to the Holocaust. As one woman wrote in the comments section: “I think we have a parental duty to protect children from even knowing about the worst aspects of evil.”

Do we?

In my case, my husband is Jewish, we’ve been to Israel as a family and my nine-year-old could practically write a book on World War II at this point. So somehow I don’t really think that we could “hide” the Holocaust from my daughter, even if we wanted to. But I also feel strongly that the Holocaust is quite recent world history. And at some point children need to know that the Holocaust happened in order to comprehend its magnitude and horror and very possibility, if for no other reason than to guard against it happening again.

But the Holocaust isn’t the only evil we’ve talked about with our kids. I moved to London 3½ years ago, the day before a group of home grown British terrorists was arrested for a “liquid bomb plot” at Heathrow airport. The next day, as we tried to settle our new home/country/life, there were TVs on everywhere we went. People were jittery. My then five-year-old son asked me what was going on. Should I have lied to him? Perhaps. But I didn’t.

As I wrote about subsequently, 9/11 and all that has come since has permanently changed the way Westerners perceive and experience terrorism. It’s no longer something that happens “over there.” It is woven into the very fabric of our daily lives through things like threat levels (ours just went up to “severe”), how much freedom of speech is permissible at universities, even what kinds of liquids we can bring on board an airplane. Living – as we now do – in that sort of environment alters the equation for what kids need to become aware of at an early age.

You could also extend this line of argument to encompass natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Haiti (while understanding that this is a very different form of tragedy.) Is it distressing for a six-year-old to learn that 150,000 people just died in an earthquake because they happened to live in the wrong place at the wrong time? Sure it is. But my daughter and I have talked about Haiti too. Whether that’s to make her appreciate just how fortunate she is or to begin to teach her about charitable giving, it’s a worthwhile lesson, IMHO.

So, at the end of the day? I’m totally down with the I Hate Hitler list.

But how about you? When do you think we ought to begin discussing the reality of “unnatural” deaths with your children? And are there certain topics that ought to remain taboo?

*****

For those who are interested, here’s a post I did yesterday about what Gordon Brown can learn from the recent elections in Massachusetts and Chile.

Image: Mai piu’ by maxgiani via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons Up In The Air Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

My husband and I went to see Up In The Air last weekend, which has just been released in the U.K. We really liked it (even if one of us didn’t think Vera Farmiga was all that hot…ahem.) And yet, when we came home and talked about the film with our 17 year-old sitter, I didn’t advise her to go see it. In fact, I’m not sure I’d advise anyone under the age of 30 to see this movie.

Why is this, you ask? It’s not the sex (of which there’s none, and only one shot of nudity) or the violence (ditto). It’s just that for my mind, this is a really grown-up movie that can’t be well appreciated by someone who’s not…well…middle-aged.

So despite the PG-15 rating, here are five reasons why I think this is a movie for grown-ups (Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t yet seen the movie yet, this post contains some revealing information!):

1. It’s about the economy. As my former colleague Michelle Brafman notes, this is a movie where the recession plays a starring role. It’s a movie about downsizing, lay-offs and the way in which technological advances affect office life. I’m not saying that someone in their 20s can’t appreciate those things, but they won’t have quite the bite that they do for people who’ve lived through a few economic booms and busts. Evidence in support of this theory: the most moving parts of the film are all shots of real-life middle-aged or older people whose entire lives have been turned upside down by getting fired.

2. It’s about feminism. This is also a movie about feminism – as I define it – by which I mean women making independent – and sometimes shocking – choices about their lives. In this case, that amounts to having an affair (not so shocking) and not wanting to ditch everything for your apparent soul-mate, even if he’s George Clooney (a bit more  shocking). There’s a point in the film where the 20-something, tightly wound, overly professional and overly idealistic colleague of the Clooney character thanks Farmiga’s character for “all her generation has done for feminism.” We’re meant to laugh, because there’s only about 10 years between them. But later on in the film – when Farmiga tells Clooney that she’s a grown-up and that he should call her when he’s ready to play with the big kids (i.e. to accept a sexual friendship with no strings attached) -  we understand that the last laugh’s on us. This lady *is* liberated.

3. It’s about commitment. As many people have already observed, this is also a film about loyalty and commitment. In my own view – and as I’ve written in this space many times before – it’s incredibly hard to stay committed to the same person over the long haul. And that’s just not something young people worry about. They’re off experimenting and having fun and aren’t terribly bothered by what’s coming next or how long anything lasts. And that’s just as it should be.

4. The romantic leads are middle-aged. At one point in the movie, the script (foolishly, IMHO) suggests that Farmiga’s character is 34. She looks more like 38 or 40 but whatever. The point is that while she’s no Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated – (and despite what my husband thinks, Vera Farmiga *is* hot) – nor is she the young, naïve 23 year-old who also co-stars in this film. At one point, I thought they’d write the ending so that Clooney ends up with the younger woman. Thank goodness they didn’t. The whole point of this film is that it’s about what it’s like to fall in love – or “in like” as the case may be – when you’ve already been around the block a few times.

5. It doesn’t have a happy ending. I’ll fess up to having a preference for dark movies and sad endings. This film has neither. But – other than for the 23 year old – nor do things end on a particularly tidy note. Which is – dare I say it – a tad more realistic. And also comforting for those of us who’ve also been around the block.

*****

For those who are interested, please do have a look at my post in PoliticsDaily.com yesterday on whether universities breed terror.

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Remembering the 9/11 That Wasn't

Yesterday, I posted about how personal events sometimes cause us to grow up faster than we’d planned.

The same is often true of public events. Today, I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about the liquid bomb plot that nearly brought down seven airplanes and potentially thousands of lives before it was stopped by the British authorities in August, 2006. The attack’s plotters were sentenced to life in prison yesterday. I happened to move to London the day before the plot was foiled, and my proximity to that “almost 9/11″ event has forever changed my attitudes towards terrorism.

Have a look

Image: United Airlines 777s by Matt.Hintsa via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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