While children may not be directly affected by the tragic events surrounding the terrorist attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, they will have questions and concerns about what it means for their world.
While news reports were not intended to alarm children, it is impossible to protect or shield children from knowledge of an event of this size. They have heard or seen media reports and adults discussing the issue, and they can tell that the adults around them are concerned and upset. Continuing bomb threats and heightened security will add to their level of concern and it is critical that the adults in their lives parents, teachers, and guardians help children deal with and process this event.
Young children. Preschool children will be very confused by these events. Many young children do not know how to tell if something happened to them or to other people. They have difficulty separating media images from reality. They will be very sensitive to what adults are feeling. Young children can be an important asset to adults at this time, too, however. Holding and hugging young children can be reassuring to both the adults and the children.
Elementary school children. Some school-age children will want to know explanations of the events and the factors involved. It is important to assess each child's level of understanding to see if he or she is capable of understanding the difference between the media reports and the entertainment shows they're used to watching. Help school-age children understand where the attacks occurred and where those cities are in relation to your location. They will benefit from expressing their ideas in various forms, such as art, letters, and music and with puppets. They also would benefit from taking some kind of action, such as writing letters, preparing a display for the community, or collecting items to help survivors.
Adolescents. Adolescents may act like they do not care, but sometimes that is an attempt to look strong and save face. Adolescents will want more details and will have more skills and coping strategies to deal with the event, but they still will not deal with it the same way that adults do. Because adolescents tend to look at the world in a black-and-white fashion, they may want to know who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. It would be helpful to guide them toward separating the evil of the event from the value of people. Adolescents could easily take the emotions of the event as a call to paint entire groups as enemies or evil. They may be able to understand that the concerns of groups may be legitimate, but that using violence whether it is a fist, a bomb, or an airplane is never the best way to deal with frustration or anger. Adolescents may feel vulnerable, because the President has declared war, and young people are the ones who are sent to fight wars. They also may find that this situation challenges friendships, as each person chooses a way to respond to the crisis. Adults may be able to help adolescents as they realign friendships or may be able to help teens find common ground to balance with differences.
Young Adults. While people in this age group often feel invulnerable, events this traumatic and close to home may shake their certainty. Young adults will be more knowledgeable than children about the nature of the attacks and the consequences, and their fears will be more realistic. Their methods of coping with those fears may not be. Young adults tend to focus on the cause and may want to take some kind of action, such as getting in a car and driving to a demonstration. Older adults will need to help them keep this in perspective and guide them to positive outlets such as giving blood, collecting money for victims, or attending a vigil or memorial service. They may also want to learn more about geopolitics and world history. Young adults may face the same friendship realignment concerns as adolescents, as friends express varying attitudes about the event and solutions. In addition, some young adults may begin to question their studies and jobs, because a major event like this challenges them to rethink what is important. Adullts can be there to support young adults as they seek to find their place and their voice.