THURSDAY, Sept. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Mallory Ham had just
arrived at her first-grade class when the hijacked planes with
their terrified passengers ripped into the World Trade Center.
Though her recollections of that day are incomplete, they're burned
into her memory just the same.
She recalls teachers crying, being sent home, seeing her mother
glued to the TV, watching the Twin Towers collapse.
"I didn't really understand what it was -- I only remember being scared," said Ham, now a 16-year-old junior at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, Conn., a suburb of New York City.
Part of the Millennial Generation, and dubbed by some the 9/11
Generation, Ham and other young Americans under 18 years old have
carried the weight of that day for much of their lives.
And with the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks
approaching, American children -- including those not yet born a
decade ago -- will have to come to grips with one of the most
terrifying events in recent American history, as media reports
replay the assaults on New York City and Washington, D.C.
Psychologists say there's nothing to be gained by allowing
children of any age to watch disturbing footage of buildings
bursting into flames or people plummeting to their deaths. And
parents, beware. It's not just TV news that you need to be
concerned with: Ground Zero videos are easy to find on YouTube.
"It's very clear to me that the repeated exposure to images of 9/11 serves no purpose for adults or children, and I would discourage parents from allowing their children to be exposed to graphic images," said Roxane Cohen Silver, a University of California, Irvine professor of psychology and social behavior who has done extensive research on the psychological impact of 9/11 on children.
It's a parent's job to keep tabs on what their children --
especially younger ones -- are being told about the attacks, to
help them understand them and to deal with fears and questions that
may result, said psychologist Robin Gurwitch, coordinator of the
National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati
Children's Hospital Medical Center.
To open the conversation, parents might start by asking their
kids if they want to talk about the events of 9/11, and then
letting them express their emotions and thoughts, Gurwitch
Parents may be surprised by what they hear.
A Nickelodeon special -- "What Happened? The Story of September
11, 2001" hosted by newswoman Linda Ellerbee -- interviewed kids
who thought that the terrorists were from Iraq or Japan, who
thought 500 planes disappeared, or who thought the attacks never
"They may have some misperceptions. They may think, 'All people in the Middle East hate America.' It's important for parents to explain that's not accurate. We want to make sure that we gently correct and supply correct information," Gurwitch said.
She remembers her own daughter asking her 10 years ago about a
group of children who were rumored to have been kidnapped and held
by terrorists in Washington, D.C.
When it's your turn to talk, you might find yourself stumped for
words. War and terrorism are difficult subjects to broach with
children, because even adults can be at a loss to explain why
something so terrible could happen.
Choose your words carefully, to keep explanations simple and
brief. And never underestimate the power of a hug and some
reassurance from Mom or Dad, experts advised.
And, of course, what you'd discuss with a teen will be different
than how you'd approach the topic with a younger child.
Also, keep in mind that children watch their parents closely.
Their ability to recover from traumatic situations is often
dependent on how well their parents cope, experts said.
"When we as adults remember this anniversary and commemorate it and watch the stories and the images, all of those feelings we had on that day will come flooding back," Gurwitch said. "The issue then becomes, 'How do we help our children as we're trying to handle our own emotions?' It's fine for children to see that you are distressed and to cry, but they also need to see that you can wipe away your tears and go on with your day, talk about it and talk about something constructive."
After the attacks, many people felt compelled to reach out to
distant friends and family, and to volunteer for charitable
organizations, Gurwitch said.
The 10th anniversary may be an opportunity for that as well, she
added. Remind children of the heroism of the first responders and
volunteers who went to Ground Zero to help, or of the importance of
stamping out hate, intolerance and violence.
"This is a window for you to communicate your ideas about tolerance, respect for differences, and to make a difference in your community," Gurwitch said.
Immediately after the attacks, research done on children in New
York who did not lose a family member or were not otherwise
directly affected found a modest uptick in symptoms of anxiety. For
the vast majority of U.S. children, studies found no lingering
mental health issues, Cohen Silver said.
And yet, reports of college students celebrating the death of
Osama bin Laden raises the question of whether the young were
altered by the attacks in ways psychologists don't fully
Despite their resilience, no one -- children included -- have
forgotten, Mallory Ham said.
"It's stayed with everyone. It's definitely something no one is going to forget. It's a day to be remembered for so many years to come," Ham said.
Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll measures 9/11's toll 10
American Academy of Pediatrics has more on talking
to children about disasters.
To read HealthDay's story on the lasting health problems of 9/11
To read HealthDay's story on the psychological toll of 9/11,
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