September 11, 2006
Television and radio are
once again saturated with pictures, interviews, and stories from
September 11, 2001. While some are upset with the fictionalized
accounts, others are pleased to see the accounts of that day being
remembered and retold. While most people agree that the events of
September 11 need to be remembered, many disagree about how, and
in what ways should these events be presented to children who --
in some cases -- were too young to remember that day. Other children,
just a few years older, remember it all too well.
between news consumption and psychological distress among children
is a vital public health concern (e.g., Libow, 1992). Although researchers
have delineated the psychological consequences of trauma on child
victims, including posttraumatic stress disorder, less is known
about the short- and long-term impact of media coverage of tragedy
on child victims and bystanders. ... Three to five days after the
September 11 attacks, 560 adults were contacted via random digit
dialing (Schuster et al., 2001). ... Among children whose parents
did not limit their television viewing, a positive relationship
was observed between the number of hours of television watched and
the number of stress symptoms experienced. Interestingly, there
was a positive association between the number of hours of television
watched and the number of hours of family discussion about the attacks."
The more they watched,
the more they talked. Even so, the more they watched, the more they
were upset by the events. More specifically...
"Four to five months
after the September 11 attacks, 2001 adults in New York City were
contacted via random digit dialing (Fairbrother, Stuber, Galea,
Fleischman, & Pfefferbaum, 2003). Four hundred thirty four of
them were identified as primary caregivers of children between the
ages of four and seventeen. According to the parents, 86% of the
children saw airplanes hitting the towers, 87% of the children saw
the towers collapsing, 87% of the children saw people running from
a cloud of smoke or debris, 48% of the children saw people falling
or jumping from the towers, and 77% of the children saw at least
three of these four images. There was a positive association between
seeing at least three of these four images and having a severe or
very severe posttraumatic stress reaction."
What is "a severe
or very severe posttraumatic stress reaction"?
"One of the cardinal
symptoms of traumatic reactions, and specific symptoms of posttraumatic
stress disorder, is both an avoidance of trauma-related cues and
psychological and physiological distress upon exposure to such trauma-related
cues. Clearly, news reports regularly contain such trauma-related
cues (sounds, images). This type of exposure to reminders of the
event(s) can be extremely distressing to survivors, and many find
it quite difficult to calm down after such exposure. This is the
basis of the traumatic response that is supported by ample theoretical,
clinical and empirical evidence. ... [E]xperts suggested that survivors
limit viewing of news after September 11, 2001, and many experts
currently are suggesting to survivors that they tape anniversary
programs so that survivors may regulate their exposure and decide
if, when and how to watch these programs later."
Between news reports, special
reports, and made-for-TV specials, it can be difficult to avoid
overexposure. Parents and teens may struggle to find the right balance
of what they (and the younger children they care for) should watch.
Teachers have still one more source to consider when trying to find
the right balance, and the right way to present material.
"Five years after
Sept. 11, 2001, the terrorist attacks are beginning to surface in
some academic textbooks, but there is little guidance for teachers
on how to impart the lessons of that day. ... Some high school educators
choose to devote several lessons to it during discussions about
modern history, while others simply mention it while reviewing current
events. ... 'There is already a whole generation of kids who were
not alive when 9/11 happened,' said Gardner, executive director
of WTC United Family Group..."
While the generation of
kids who were not yet born are thinking about kindergarten in the
next year, some elementary students were alive, but too young to
remember the events of the day. Teachers and parents are called
upon to address the questions of young students -- some of whom
are learning about the events of 9/11 for the first time. For some
it is an event in history as detached from their lives as WWII or
Pearl Harbor, for other young students, the events are more real.
"There are dozens
of children like Gabi Jacobs, born to September 11 widows in the
months after the attacks. Five years later, as they approach kindergarten,
they are just beginning to grasp the stories of their fathers and
of the day that changed their lives forever. ... Already, some of
these children can tell you Daddy died when bad guys took control
of some airplanes, and then flew them into the towers. Others haven't
even heard the word 'terrorist' and don't know there was anything
more than a big fire. ..." http://www.cnn.com/2006/HEALTH/parenting/09/11/turning.five.ap/index.html
As a teacher, where does
"... Permeating class
lessons with such a sensitive subject also can be difficult, especially
in areas where more students were directly impacted. 'It's hard
because we've lost former students who worked in the towers, we
have children who lost parents . . . but this is something we have
to teach,' said Jack Shea, supervisor of the English and Social
Studies departments at Rumson Fair-Haven Regional High School. 'Did
we avoid teaching about Pearl Harbor? Of course not.' ... With help
from the Taft Institute for Government at Queens College, WTC United,
Gardner's group, hopes to incorporate Sept. 11 into the classroom.
It plans to have its National 9/11/01 Civic Education Program for
use in high schools by September 2007, which will include printed
materials, an instructional DVD and interviews with children directly
affected by the tragedy. 'What we're doing is very much based on
Holocaust education studies, where you draw on first-hand experiences
of people directly impacted in an effort to really engage the youth.'"
Teachers (and parents)
want to engage their students (and children), but don't want to
traumatize them. This desire to reach students in a meaningful way
while still being sensitive to their emotional needs and individual
situations is not unique to the topics surrounding September 11.
As the school year begins, few teachers know much about where their
students are coming from. Even as the year progresses, it is difficult
to know the personal histories of every student.
A unique example:
Years ago, I had a fellow teacher share with me an experience in
class. As the elementary students prepared to play a game of hangman,
one girl raised her hand and shared, "That's how my parents
Students who have lost loved ones in car accidents, may have a strong
emotional reaction when watching graphic videos in Driver's Ed.
Students who lived through Katrina may have difficulty seeing pictures
(or videos) of areas that have been destroyed by any number of natural
disasters. Students with a parent serving overseas in the military
may have a strong stress reaction when viewing images (or hearing
graphic descriptions) when learning about past wars.
disorder (PTSD) is a very strong stress reaction that can develop
in people who have lived through an extremely traumatic event, such
as a serious car accident, a natural disaster like an earthquake,
or an assault like rape. Physical or sexual abuse, manmade traumas
such as shootings, and military combat can cause PTSD, too. You
don't have to be hurt to experience PTSD - for some people, simply
witnessing or being threatened with great physical harm is enough
to trigger it. Events that can lead to PTSD involve feelings of
helplessness, fear, or horror, and a sense that life or safety is
in danger. It's normal to be stressed out and anxious after going
through something traumatic."
The feelings may be normal,
but that doesn't mean that they can't be overwhelming, and it doesn't
mean that they can't get out of control if left to grow.
"Getting the right
care and support after a traumatic experience can help these symptoms
run their course and subside in a few days or weeks and allow a
person to move on. But when a person has PTSD, the symptoms of a
stress reaction are intense and last for longer than a month. For
some people, the symptoms of PTSD begin soon after the trauma. Other
people may have a delayed reaction that comes months - or even years
- later. Delayed PTSD symptoms can be triggered by different things,
such as the anniversary of an event or seeing someone who was involved
in the situation."
Questions of the Week:
What topics might cause severe stress reactions for your peers,
friends, family members, or fellow students? What topics might be
difficult for teachers to teach in a manner that meets the varied
needs of the students in the class? What issues might be more difficult
to discuss where you live? With families on the move, and students
from many different backgrounds in any given class, how can teachers
(and fellow students) handle potentially emotionally charged topics
in a way that is sensitive to the varied experiences that may be
present in the classroom?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum