Talking Teens | Talking to Teens about Terror

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I didn’t want to be writing this today. I’ve struggled to be able to sit in front of the computer screen and write anything at all. I kept replaying the news in my head: Manchester, a suicide bomber, and children among the dead and injured. I just wanted to stop and think, reflect, find a way of somehow coming to terms with or understand what happened, why it happened, and to seek some scant comfort from the many acts of kindness that were carried out on the streets of Manchester last night.

But at teatime, my teenage daughter calmly came up with: “it could be any of us now, couldn’t it?” I asked her what she meant.

“Well, Mum, horrible things happen to kids all the time, but this is like someone went out of their way to hurt as many of us as they could in one go.”

It’s chilling, isn’t it, that in some people there stirs so much hatred that they would go out of their way to hurt, not just as many people as possible, but the youngest, most vulnerable among us? Every time a child is hurt, a light goes out in the world. That is the true horror of what happened in Manchester last night.

My girl went on. “I’m going out now and there’s going to be a load of us teenagers together. Will I be alright? I guess they (meaning terrorists) could blow us up.” She was going to her drama class. Teenagers together, enjoying their love of drama, learning skills, spending time together, laughing, chilling, living their lives as they should. Except today they are not quite as carefree as they were yesterday. Today, they understand that they are not exempt from being targets of indescribable cruelty. Today, they have taken a much larger step towards the grim world that adults inhabit, that adults have helped create.

She hasn’t yet asked me why it happened. Perhaps she won’t and if she does, what on earth shall I tell her?  The reasons behind suicide bombings are utterly beyond my understanding. And I also needed to understand how I felt. Angry, horrified, shocked. I feel all of those, but I also feel deeply sad. Sad for the victims and their families and sad that in the UK, a British man so young, should have found it in him to do this. Rage that somewhere there is a secretive group of people enticing, tempting, brainwashing others to commit these terrible acts. Fearful that acts like this will only create more anger, more divisions, more violence. Proud that there is so much warmth and kindness in people as they stand together in Manchester and across UK.

The most important thing I had to remember, though, was that I needed to listen to my teens, acknowledge their fears and make sure that we didn’t seek to apportion blame on any groups of people, faith groups or ethnic groups, for example. This only perpetuates more fear, more hatred, and more horrors. My anger was mine to deal with, because I am the adult and I can rationalize it. Theirs was expressed, and once out, evaporated. That’s the best thing to do with anger.

So my son, with all the wisdom of his eighteen years, stepped in. “A person must be very damaged already to do that to people,” he posited, “but no-one would know, because no-one seems to care about anyone else any more.”

He’s very socially and politically aware these days, the Paris attacks almost two years ago opened his eyes to the devastation of terrorism and the recent spate of elections across UK and Europe have led him to look into many issues, including the plight of war victims and refugees. In his world, bombings and death are the same in Manchester, Madrid, New York, Paris, Aleppo, Yemen, Ukraine, Mosul….Children die because somewhere there are grown ups who really don’t care, who put money and power and greed first. Who can forget the scenes of children starving in the Yemen because of the war there, or drowning at sea as they fled war in the Middle East, or shuddering to horrible deaths when they were bombed with nerve gas in Syria?

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We talked at length about the Manchester atrocity. It is always good to talk. They may not be subjects we wish to discuss, but, especially for teenagers, at the cusp of childhood and adulthood, there is a need to explore and understand and to do that in the safety of a loving family environment, or in school or youth clubs, is the best way that they can voice their thoughts and fears. We talked about how it might have happened, the aftermath, the hundreds of small and large acts of heroism by the emergency services and in fact, by so many members of the community in Manchester. We talked about whether something like this could happen here, whether they could feel safe, whether feeling safe is something we can no longer take for granted, and how to stay safe.

What we really couldn’t do was talk about why. Why did it happen? Why are these poor youngsters and some of their family, never coming home from what was supposed to be a great night out? It was something just touched upon, but in doing so, my son may have shed some light on the whole thing:

“Where people are so caught up in their little world of survival, of doing their own thing, earning their money, buying their cars or houses or whatever, they don’t realize what the lad or girl next door is up to, or is suffering. If people don’t care that others have so much less than them, can barely make ends meet, or that they are sick, mentally sick and can’t get help because there is no help to be had, then we’ll just keep having people who do these things.”

Perhaps in Gibraltar our society doesn’t show the fractures that have appeared in the societies of large countries. Perhaps we are that little bit more prosperous and that little bit more ready to share that prosperity around. Perhaps we are so small that we can see when people around us are suffering hardships or have become somehow disengaged, or are dabbling with things that are dangerous, or are becoming a danger to themselves and others. Perhaps it’s because we are still used to caring for one another. And perhaps caring is the glue that will begin to bind communities across the world together. Because until people start to really care for each other again, we will see more of this, and we will be sickened, and we will have to explain to our children and our grandchildren why there are so many awful images on their screens time after time after time.

Hard though our conversations have been, I can’t imagine how hard it has been for families in Manchester today. Yet talking is the first step to healing and to some kind of understanding and acceptance. I don’t imagine I’m the only Mum of teens in Gibraltar today to be dealing with tough questions and children who are upset about what happened to kids their age not so far away. And like all difficult conversations that we have to have with our children, I believe that this is one we cannot and should not shy away from.

There’s some useful information for kids online at BBC Newsround that might help:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/13865002

And there’s also information provided by the NSPCC, which touches on how to help children deal with who feel targeted because of their faith:

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-we-do/news-opinion/supporting-children-worried-about-terrorism/

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