Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bin Laden Coverage: Protecting Our Kids and the Kid Inside All of Us

Yesterday, I shared with you my thoughts about explaining Osama bin Laden to children. I was apparently not the only person worrying about this. Time ran a piece which began,
President Obama certainly wasn't taking the sensibilities of West Coast children into consideration when he made his stunner of a speech Sunday night.
Parents in the Pacific time zone found themselves scrambling to explain the news in real time, and some of them were pretty unhappy about it.

While I certainly understand the problems of trying to explain this stuff to kids -- that's why I wrote yesterday's piece in the first place -- I will admit to feeling a little frustrated with those who would make this complaint. If there was one thing we all should have learned from 9-11, it is that live television is unpredictable. Anything can happen at any time. Part of being a parent is recognizing this and using it to make decisions about whether your children can watch TV, and whether you will choose to watch things live. Part of being a parent is also realizing that kids will inevitably ask about things we'd just as soon they not know about, and we have to answer the questions when they come.

In addition, speaking as someone from the east coast, Obama's speech didn't start until way past my bedtime. If he had waited until every kid in the country was asleep, he wouldn't catch a whole lot of adults, either. News happens when it happens. If you don't want your kids to see it, don't turn on the news.

That having been said, I have been somewhat appalled by what some media outlets have chosen to run in their coverage of bin Laden's death. Yesterday afternoon I was listening to "Here and Now," a public radio show from WBUR in Boston. They had the usual talking heads discussing the implications of bin Laden's death, which was all well and good. At the very end, the host said that his death also brought us "back in time" to 9-11. They then proceeded, with explanation of what each clip was, to play the audio of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center (complete with screaming), audio of someone who died in the towers on the phone, and audio of a very frightened voicemail message left by someone who died.

I cried. Then I got mad. Don't get me wrong, I certainly understand that this weekend's events bring back memories of 9-11, and to some extent they will trigger any unresolved trauma we all have. But wasn't the memory enough? Did we really need the extra boost of some vivid sensory input? Did we need to invade the privacy of dead people just one more time? Were they afraid we wouldn't remember unless they retraumatized us? And if you're worried about the sensibilities of children, would you want your kids hearing that with no warning at all?

9-11 is unique in our collective experience because it was a trauma for almost everyone in the country. That means that, in planning what to broadcast, you have to treat everyone in the audience as a trauma victim. You wouldn't force the victim of a shooting, for example, to listen to the audio of the incident without a good reason. We all deserve a little less sensationalism and a little more respect for how raw this still feels.

* The artwork on this post, like yesterday's, comes from the FEMA website and was created by a 5th grader at Chagrin Falls Intermediate School for the 1st anniversary of 9-11.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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