Raising children with a post Sept. 11 mindset
The book includes a poem Megan Greene wrote about her aunt, Lorraine Mary Greene Lee, a fire marshal in the second tower who stayed behind, tragically it turns out, to make sure everyone had gone. Megan, now 20 and studying fashion merchandising, was in fifth grade when the attacks happened.
Her memories of that day range from her school class in New Jersey slowly emptying as parents came one by one to collect pupils (a memory shared by many American kids); to the awful wait to get news of her aunt's death; to her grandmother's heart attack that very day, compounding the family's misery (she had surgery and survived.) Greene says the events changed her in many ways, and not just because of her grief.
"That day made me who I am," says Greene. "It made me grow up. Losing someone made me stronger. It made me never take family or friends for granted."
Her world view changed too - darkened, perhaps. "When I was 10 I didn't think the world was a bad place," she says. "Mom and Dad kept me safe. Now, I second-guess people more."
And she treads more cautiously - including on outings to nearby New York City.
"When I go there, I never go alone," she says. "I'd be too nervous. I am definitely afraid of terrorism. I want to be with people I know - family, friends, who could take care of me if something happened."
Some parents say they worry less about their children's security and more about the impact of 9/11 on their understanding - and acceptance - of other cultures.
"The kids are getting an image of the Muslim world that I didn't have growing up," says Niki Adler, a mother of two in suburban Pittsburgh who works in public relations at Carnegie Mellon University. "My job is to counteract some of that. This is a culture like anybody else's culture. My kids need to understand it better."
Adler's older son, Bobby, was only 4 when the attacks happened. "I actually don't have many memories of it," he tells a reporter. "I was too young to comprehend what was going on."
But he also believes "it's the worst thing that's happened in our modern history," a sentiment he shared last year when his eighth grade history teacher asked the class to privately write down their thoughts on 9/11. "I wrote that it must have been really terrible for the people going through it."
His teacher, Jeffrey Holliday, says he first assigned the writing exercise to a group of kids just 24 hours after the actual attacks, and he's given the assignment to his middle-schoolers each anniversary since. He promises them he won't look at what they've written until he retires (although as the 10th anniversary nears, he is tempted to peek). But he gets a sense of what they think from class discussion, and he says the feelings and opinions among 13-year-olds are as diverse as those of adults.
"We all carry something different from this," he says. If there's any common factor, he notes, it's a keen attention among kids - especially younger ones - to how the adults in their lives dealt with the event at the time, and how they regard it today.
Schonfeld, the pediatrician who worked with New York kids after the attacks, says parents don't always realize that their stress over events like Sept. 11 affects how their children feel.
"If parents have difficulty coping, their children do, too," he says. "The kids don't even need to know what's going on" - they'll feel it anyway.
Which is not to say parents are better off hiding their stress or fears.
"If you don't talk to your children, you're more likely to make them anxious," says Schonfeld, who also directs the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement. "If you just tell them that it's all OK, that's not genuine. Kids need to learn to cope. They can only do that if they see you coping with your own distress."
The impact of Sept. 11 on families is such a fundamental part of the event's aftermath that even the 911Memorial.org website has a page of advice called "Talking to your children about 9/11."
"Don't avoid difficult conversations," it says. "Answer questions about the attacks with facts. ... Acknowledge that we don't have all the answers."
And, of course: "Listen."
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