Preparing for Movies About 9/11 (page 3)
This guide was developed for parents and family members of children and adolescents who lost a loved one on 9/11. The information and suggestions provided in this guide may also be helpful to other important adults, such as teachers and mentors, who interact with children and adolescents who were impacted by 9/11.
As coverage on television, the internet, and in the print media about movies based on the events of 9/11 increases, some people may find that they will experience feelings of sadness, anger, confusion, disappointment, and nervousness, similar to those they had soon after 9/11 itself. Others may feel that they are able to more effectively cope, and that they are in fact more ready than they were in the past to talk about their feelings. These varying reactions may be seen in children and adolescents as well as adults.
Your natural inclination may be to attempt to shield your children from the increased media attention that the movies will attract. Despite your best efforts, it is likely that children and adolescents will be exposed to images and messages related to 9/11 through a number of sources, such as television, the big screen, internet, and radio. Children will be faced with movie posters, trailers, ads on television and radio, magazine articles, internet blogs, and special reports. It may not be possible to completely shield your children from the attention to, and conversations about 9/11 related movie and media events. Talking with children about these issues is the best way to prepare them for what is to come.
When done in a sensitive way, talking about 9/11 or other potentially frightening topics will not increase children's feelings of worry or sadness. In fact, it is usually through discussions with a trusted adult that children are able to feel safer and less afraid. It is therefore important to engage children in an open discussion about their feelings related to what they see on television, the internet, or in the movies, or what they hear from peers, teachers, or others. By being proactive and preparing your children for the media attention they are likely to be exposed to, you will be taking an important step toward helping your children cope.
The following guidelines were designed to help you talk to your children about movies related to 9/11.
Guidelines for Parents and Family Members
When speaking with your children, it is important to consider their age and maturity when deciding how much information to share. In addition, your child's individual personality style and temperament will play a significant role in his/her responses and reactions. Some children are naturally more prone to being reactive to information they hear about 9/11, while others may not pay much attention to the media at all. Either way, preparing your children for what to expect will help them to understand and cope with what they see and hear.
Talking About Movies and Media Exposure Related to 9/11
- Be aware of time and place
Choose a location where you will be able to talk to your children without external distractions and for a sufficient period of time. It is best to pick a time when other pressing responsibilities (e.g., car pool, homework) or ongoing activities (e.g., playing a game or watching television) are not going to interfere with your talk.
- Take the first step
It is often necessary for you to initiate the dialogue yourself. A good starting point is to ask children what they have heard or seen about the five year anniversary or movies. You can follow up by asking children what they think and feel.
- Address the issue directly Speak to your children openly and honestly. Tell your children that you have decided to tell them about the movies and other news events so that they know what to expect.
- Provide facts and information
As difficult as it may be, it is important to state the facts in an objective manner to your children. Explain the situation to your children, and tell them what they can expect in the months to come. For example, prepare your children for billboards advertising a movie or trailers they may see when they go to the theater.
You are encouraged to listen to your children's thoughts and feelings. It is important to determine children's understanding of 9/11 related events and the media's interest in this topic so that you are able to help them cope.
- Invite questions
It is critical that children be encouraged to ask questions about information they obtain through the media. By answering children's questions, parents can correct misinformed assumptions and reduce anxiety and fear. If adults do not address these questions and concerns, children may try to put together potentially incorrect or confusing information from other sources, including each other.
- Focus on the children's feelings and thoughts
Parents should not make assumptions about children's thoughts, perceptions, or concerns. Provide your children with an opportunity to openly talk about their perceptions, thoughts and feelings without judgment or suggestions.
- Validate children's feelings
Assure children that their feelings are valid and that even adults can be frightened or worried. This is especially important for children with emotional difficulties or children who have difficulty interpreting others' feelings. In addition to validating children's concerns and feelings, reassure them that adults such as yourself are in control and will continue to take care of them.
- Remain patient and calm
If children become upset in anticipation of the increased attention to 9/11, or they exhibit emotional and behavioral difficulties after seeing a movie trailer or special report, it is important to remain patient and calm. By not getting overly emotional yourself, you will reassure them that you are able to cope with talking about what is happening. Children and adolescents are more likely to feel safe when faced with adults who seem to be able to handle the situation.
- Be honest and open
Children and adolescents may be more likely to open up about their feelings when parents take the lead and discuss their own thoughts about a given situation. In addition, sharing your own feelings may help to normalize the experiences of your children. However, adults must be careful to avoid further worrying children by making generalizations about groups of individuals which may dehumanize the situation, or by burdening children with their own fears and concerns.
- Instill hope
Tell your children that by being prepared and anticipating the increased media coverage, they will be able to better handle the images and messages that may be sent their way.
- Plan ahead and problem solve
Have a discussion with your children about how they will cope when faced with news or images about a movie or the anniversary.
- Anticipate reactions
It is helpful to anticipate situations in which children may be unexpectedly exposed to images and messages about 9/11. Talk to your children openly about where they may face possible exposure to movies, trailers, and advertisements, including school and conversations with peers. In this way, children can anticipate the information and be better equipped to cope.
- Make joint decisions
Develop a plan of action with each child about what they will and will not do with regards to attending events and watching movies about 9/11. Make decisions according to each child's own needs and wants, and respect their wishes. Know that some children's decisions may change over time.
General Tips for Helping Children Cope
Coping with difficult life events requires understanding and patience. There are many practical techniques that may help people when they feel stressed, afraid, overwhelmed, sad, or angry. Individuals should choose the strategies that are right for them and not judge others for having different reactions. Parents are encouraged to help children cope by keeping the following tips in mind.
- Maintain routines and normal activities
As much as possible, children and adolescents are better able to cope with stressful situations if they are provided with a safe and predictable environment. Maintaining routines and normal activities whenever possible is therefore very important. For example, if children go to the movies regularly, it is important to allow them to continue this activity.
- Encourage children to write about their thoughts and feelings, or to draw pictures reflecting their experiences
This will provide them with an outlet to share their experiences.
- Discussion is ongoing
Answering questions and addressing fears does not necessarily happen all at once. New issues may arise or become apparent over time, and discussions should be had on an ongoing and as-needed basis.
- Whenever possible, limit media coverage
When adults believe that children have been exposed to too much media coverage, children may be reoriented to other pursuits such as sports or other enjoyable activities.
- Be an active participant
It is important that adults monitor children's exposure to the media so that they can be available to answer questions or provide support. If children choose to watch movies about 9/11 or reports about the movies' releases, parents are encouraged to invite an open discussion about their perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.
- Make sure children know where to turn for support
Decide who your children can contact and where they can go if they become upset or overwhelmed. Come up with a plan for who they can talk to at school, such as a guidance counselor, should the need arise.
- Encourage the use of relaxation techniques
Along with your children, practice taking slow, deep breaths from the diaphragm. Show your children how the belly goes in when we take deep breaths, which is different from how the body responds when we take shallow breaths. Also, have your children imagine a safe and calm place, such as a sandy beach, a mountain, or a cozy part of home. Remind them to visualize this place whenever they want to feel calm.
- Seek professional guidance
It is expected that some children may exhibit emotional or behavioral difficulties when faced with information, images or messages about 9/11 and upcoming movies. If children's reactions persist, it is recommended that parents contact a mental health professional or seek assistance from the child's school to help enhance children's coping strategies.
Important Note: The Families Forward Program, at the Institute for Trauma and Resilience, NYU Child Study Center prepared this guide to offer practical suggestions to parents. The guide is not a substitute for professional consultation from a mental health provider.
Families Forward can be reached at (212) 263-2757.
Media inquiries: Please contact Dave DeCicco, Director of Public Affairs (212) 263-3652 or email: Dave.DeCicco@NYUMC.ORG
For more information on how children react to and cope with death and trauma, please refer to Caring for Kids After Trauma and Death: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. (PDF)
AboutOurKids also has a number of other articles related to this topic here.
About the NYU Child Study Center
The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at http://www.aboutourkids.org/.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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