The Tough Talk: How to Discuss War, ISIS, and Terrorism With Your Kids

By Evan Field

In the past nine years the Q & A topics in my home have covered body parts, how babies are made, how to be a good friend, religion, love, family, school … everything  a ‘nuclear’ family tackles in the confines of a safe suburban environment. My two kids are naturally inquisitive, and for the most part, they are positively receptive to the answers and lessons doled back. I am proud to say that we have done an A- to B+ job teaching them the appropriate lessons that pair with their questions and growing pains. We filter their misinformation and help them make sense out of confusing topics … but we’ve been lucky that their questions have been environmentally appropriate.

What do you do when events from another less safe place are exposed to your child without your control?

One afternoon, my 10-year-old daughter came home and hopped off the bus with a quiet, pale, shocked demeanor. This concoction of expressions told us that something really bad had happened — parents just know.  She buried herself in my wife’s arms and sobbed uncontrollably.

After calming her down, she told us that on the bus she saw a picture on someone’s phone of a man holding up the bloody body of a small girl without a head. She asked us if it was real.

All the other kids who saw it told one another that it was real, and that there was a group of people killing thousands of Christians in another part of the world.  My first reaction was wanting to destroy that kid who was showing other kids pictures of ISIS atrocities. My second reaction was wanting to off that kid’s parents.

Now unless you are living under a rock, we all are aware of the newest holocaust that is happening regarding the group known as ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’… ISIS.  Most of us have seen this utterly repulsive picture of the beheaded body of a child wearing a blood-soaked dress held up and celebrated by the men in the room. By now the internet and news outlets are bombarded with hundreds of atrocious images that are purposefully pushed out from ISIS in an attempt to secure the terrorist regime’s legitimacy. The US, UK, and France have begun to help combat the regime, and we now know that this is the ‘real deal’.

But now the ‘real deal’ was pushed before the eyes of MY daughter, whom I have focused my last decade toward her comfort and safety. This horrific image crept into the environment where my daughter happily thrives. The terror that is happening in other parts of the world has now reared its ugly images, destroying my daughter’s innocence. I am furious that the terror exists and I am furious that it’s possible for my young kids to be able to see it without my permission.

Game Time: I had to put my emotions aside and deal with it because my wife is pulling out the “What the fuck do we say now” card.

Hand-in-hand, I took my daughter for a walk to the park and we sat in the grass. Calmly, I told her to ask me whatever she wanted to ask and that I would do my best to answer.

Q:   Why did that little girl get her head cut off, Daddy?

A:    The picture you saw was really scary and disgusting … nobody knows if it is real or fake. A kid with her head cut off is a terrible scary picture to see. There are places in the world that are not as safe as where we live. We are lucky to live in a place where the police are able to help us if we are in trouble and if people try to hurt us. Unfortunately, there are those places in the world where there are no police to help. There are places in the world where people fight other people for not believing in the same religion and kids can get hurt if they are too close to the fighting. I want you to know that I believe this picture is fake, like a scary movie.

Yes, I lied to my daughter, knowing full well the picture was real.  I just felt that it was my job to make her feel comfortable after such a shock. I also felt that at this time in her young life, she is not able to handle the atrocious details of reality. I have a hard time comprehending the horrors myself.

Q: What if it IS real — why would the men in the picture smile or laugh?

A: I want you to understand that we live among family, friends, neighbors, and most other people in this country who think that life is precious. I think that my life is just as important as someone else’s who believes in a different religion or a different way of life.  The men in the picture are terrible men who are happy when people from other religions are dead or made to suffer. I know this is really hard for you to hear and to understand. As your Dad, I didn’t want for you to see this while you are so young. But you saw it, fake or real; you saw it, and I am so sorry for that. I believe the picture is fake … but there are men like this in a different part of the world, far away from us, who DO go to war against other people who don’t want to be the same religion. There are men like those in the picture who are happy when people from different religions die.  It it painful to know this and it is so so sad.  We are lucky to live in a safe place where the police protect us from danger.  We are lucky to live in a country that defends EVERYONE.

Q:  Where do the bad men from the picture live? Can they get to us? How long would it take for them to drive here?

A: They live about 7,000 miles away. They can’t drive here because there are oceans and mountains in between us and them. They live in a couple of different countries called Syria and Iraq … almost the opposite side of the world. They have computers, cameras, iPhones, and the internet. They are able to take pictures and video. They are able to use their computers to change the pictures to show whatever they want, fake or not fake.  You know that we can see pictures and video from anywhere in the world.  Those awful men know this too, so they try to scare us from very far away.  That is what they want to do to people like us … scare us.  Since they can never get to us … the best they can do is try to scare us.

Q:  It scared me … really scared me. Does it scare you too, Daddy? I don’t want to go out of the house anymore because it scares me.

A: I think what is happening in other parts of the world is a very scary and sad thing. But I am not scared of those men. I live here with you and our family because I know that this is the safest place for us and that men like those in the picture will not be able to hurt us here. If I was scared and didn’t leave my house because of what those men put on the internet, then those men would win. They are trying to win by putting fear into our hearts and trying to change our lives. Not leaving the house means your life is changed.

I will go about my life and live happily, honey. I won’t let them win.

This past summer has seen its fare share of fighting and terror. Hamas, Al-QaedaBoko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Aqsa, ISIS … all different names but all with the same fundamental destructive goal.  How the hell do we explain such insanity to young innocent kids when the savagery is truly unexplainable?  This must have been how the Free World felt about the Nazis 70 years ago. I did my best with my daughter letting her know that she is safe, that her Mom and I will do everything to protect her — that’s all I can do. The truth is, I am not sure that there are any right answers.


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