How do you talk to your kids about Syria?

5 Sep

Syria Pakistan TodayMy son was asking me questions about Syria last night. I did my best to answer him, but how do you explain centuries of conflict and bloodshed to a 10-year-old kid?

He has never known a world without terrorism. Since his infancy, every trip to the airport has been met with scanners and searches. Bags have been checked at the entrance of every theme park, football game and civic event he’s attended. The good guys vs. bad guys games he played with his friends have always been U.S. Navy SEALs versus Al Qaeda.

Why does my son know about these things? The reminders are everywhere, and I can’t keep him in a protective bubble. He has seen the 9-11 memorials. He has met men and women who have served in the Middle East. He has had the breaking news coverage interrupt his favorite shows.

What do I say to him?

His 10-year-old mind doesn’t understand real life is not like a G.I. Joe movie. The hero can’t throw a few punches and end the conflict in 30 minutes. The bad guys aren’t always easily identifiable. They hide among innocent civilians. They have others do their dirty work. They can be hundreds of miles away when their bombs go off.  He doesn’t understand that you may able to get the bad guy, but as we’ve seen play out over and over again in the Middle East, he can be replaced by someone worse.

Innocent people die. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines die.

What do I say without scaring him?

In my situation, I did my best to explain. There was no talk of death, killing, politics or end times – just the facts in a way a child could understand them.

I used the example of a school bully. I told him to imagine another kid tells you this bully hurt some little kids, but no one really knows for sure if he was the one who did it. You want to kick the bully’s butt, but the bully threatens to hurt your friends and their little brothers and sisters if you go after him. Plus, the bully has other bully friends who will try to hurt you and your friends if you get involved.

My son paused for a moment to take it in.

I then told him to imagine he was able to kick the bully’s butt before he could hurt anyone else. He smiled to himself. “I could do that,” he said. But then I added a twist. Now imagine another kid starts hurting little kids, but he is even worse than the first bully and he really hates you and your friends. “What if this bully was the one who was really responsible for hurting kids in the first place?” I added. My son furrowed his brow. “Oh,” he said softly. “I get it.”

My response was grossly over simplistic, but it’s the best I could do for a little boy who believes that good always triumphs over evil. It’s a horrible lesson, but kids need to understand how evil gets a foothold in many parts in the world.

In some places, that foothold lasts for centuries and the blood never stops flowing.


8 Responses to “How do you talk to your kids about Syria?”

  1. wilsb8 September 5, 2013 at 7:35 PM #

    No, that was a fine example. Simplistic, yes. Maybe overly so, but it was a fine example.

  2. jsletto September 5, 2013 at 3:57 PM #

    Truth is always the best way of sharing your beliefs. I am a mother as well, but I’m not worried about scaring her. I am more worried about educating her on the facts so she does know what is happening. I was in junior high when 9-11 happened, just a few years older than your son. From then on I didn’t have parents who wanted to scare me: terrorism Caused me to be scared. I wanted education and learned as much as I could from my parents because schools won’t teach you the whole truth. Don’t rely on schools for you sons education: teach him what you believe. He will appreciate it later in his life. — I agree with a lot of things you said, but other countries children have the knowledge ( I would hope) so let’s better prepare the next generation!

  3. Claudia September 5, 2013 at 11:41 AM #

    Reblogged this on We Just Look Up and commented:
    This is a very insightful commentary about the situation is Syria…and it won’t just help kids understand, but adults, too.

  4. Pedro Pablo Montalvo Ruano September 5, 2013 at 10:45 AM #

    Well, I´m really disappointing with you, not for the way you explain to your kid, in fact was a very good way, for a person with a “washing brain”.
    My father always say to me “If you are absolutely sure of something, is when you maybe you are wrong” and in case of matter of world politics we can have sure of nothing. Especially when your government has a history of interventions in other countries only for “Preserver the American Way of life style”.

    I have other perspective, because I live in one of that countries, Guatemala CA. and I can tell you that such thing like “good guys” o “bad guys” only exist in your Disney movies.
    I expect a Little more open mind in your blog, and before you transmit your “washing brain” to your kids, research a Little bit more, especially in History, I recommend to you read no only books edited in United Stated, also highly recommend no see only news of your country, this only for to you have a better perspective of the things happens outside United States.

    Your kid have 10 years, and you must know that all of your words going to mold his mind, and you tell to your kid that “he can’t beat anyone who he think is wrong”, no matter what culture o reasons must have; well, for sure you a raising a fine bully boy who going very well in the line of your bully-government.

    Anyway, If you feel offend in any way for this replay, I´m sorry and I understand if you banned me from your blog (is the American way when reach something that is not cool with it) I recommend to you this video, watch it:

    Bye and God bless you and give to you wisdom.


    • sgeraldscott September 5, 2013 at 6:51 PM #

      With all due respect sir, I think her message got lost somewhere in your Google translator. Perhaps you should heed your father’s advise and gain some understanding before commenting. Your reply has a couple of false premises upon which you’ve built some false conclusions. If I may paraphrase:
      1) “Truth on the world stage cannot be discerned.”
      2) “There’s no way to define good or bad.”

      You said regarding world politics that “we can be sure of nothing.” And yet you go on to make absolute statements decrying American foreign policy. True or not, you have violated your own premises. No structure can stand without a solid foundation. I suggest you start with that instead of building your ideology on mud.

      That said, I think you’ve made a couple of good points however irrelevant to Mrs. Keller’s post. I agree with you regarding perspectives and the need to broaden our sources of information. I, for one don’t trust much of anything the American mainstream media propagates. I avail myself of every opportunity to be well-informed. You fascinate me. I wonder what sort of lens you view the world through; how you filter the information you get.

      Pedro, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to decipher your perspective and in spite the obvious language barrier, I hope you’ll continue to dialogue. The need to consider other peoples’ views is not an inherently American condition. Rather, it is a human condition. Take a good long look in the mirror, sir. And the same holds true for corrupt governments; you need look no further than your own country for proof of that!
      Kind regards.

    • Pedro Pablo Montalvo Ruano September 6, 2013 at 11:43 AM #

      Tanks for your well esplained reply, and yes, maybe my english is not in correct at all, maybe you translator working beter, can I explain myself in spanish:
      Muchas gracias por su respuesta, me agrada mucho que las personas discutan sobre ideas, libre de las volubles emociones que ciegan muchas veces el criterio objetivo, realmente yo admiro mucho al pueblo de Estados Unidos, ya que a través del tiempo han demostrado tener muchos y muy buenos aportes a la humanidad, lamentablemente no puedo opinar a si de su gobierno ya que es parte de hechos históricos que se han comprobado que la intervención del mismo ha tenido lugar no solo en mi país ( ; ; ) si no en muchos otros, es por ello que mi premisa acerca de la política de los Estados Unidos no es falsa del todo, a propósito te comento que América somos todos los países de este continente, no solo los Estados Unidos, así que no puedes hablas de “American foreing policy” sin incluirnos a todos, ¿O piensas que todo lo que esta hacia el sur solo somos los que vivimos en el patio trasero?.
      Ademas realmente agradezco tu gentileza de querer ver el mundo a travez de mis ojos, esa es una muestra de mucha madurez y sensatez, ya que debemos primero saber como viven o sobreviven muchas veces las personas para comprender su modo de pensar, en el caso de los Estados Unidos, pues tienen la ventaja de que a travez de las películas y series de televisión nos permiten ver un poco su modo de vida, y ello permite comprender como en muchos casos esto no los deja ver lo que sucede realmente fuera de los Estados Unidos por lo cual es mucho mas fácil para su Gobierno el manipular mucha de la información que les llega.
      De mi lado te comento que soy muy curioso, me gusta mucho leer no solo lo que viene de Estados Unidos, si no de el resto del mundo, inclusive los países que están vedados.
      Agradezco también tu gentileza al querer “descifrar” lo que indico, y tienes mucha razón al decir que es una condición AMERICANA y de la humanidad (esta vez sin estoy de acuerdo en tu generalización) la de buscar siempre el dialogo antes que cualquier otra opción, eso es algo que seria muy bueno que lo tuviera presente su Senado y Presidente en el caso de Siria.
      Ahora bien, con respecto a mi gobierno, YOU ARE SO RIGHT!, lastimosamente desde el año de 1954 no hemos podido tener un gobierno honesto o libre de corrupción, lo malo es que ahora sabemos porque (puedes echar un ojo a los video que te indique arriba).
      Bueno, te aseguro que ha sido un gusto responder y definitvamente si Kim nos permite continuar con la conversación por este medio será un gusto también continuar, o si no puedes escribirme a mi correo
      Saludos! y que todos los éxitos colmen tu día.

    • sgeraldscott September 7, 2013 at 12:20 PM #

      I read and understood your thoughtful reply. One of the challenges when we type our thoughts onto a comment thread is the likelihood that the intended message will be misunderstood. And doubly so when our words must cross a cultural boarder; and all the more when language is an added barrier. I know this all too well; having served as a missionary in Mexico City and Kingston, Jamaica. I was a young man in his 20s – had much to learn back then (I still do!). And my own ignorance of the people I was trying to serve resulted in some occasional unintended consequences.

      Regarding your original reply to Mrs. Keller’s post, some of your words crossed the cultural/language barrier and arrived here sounding awkward and misplaced. Knowing my own wife and her passion for raising our children to be thoughtful and decent adults, the words “Bully” and “[brain washing]” were offensive to a mother; one who was looking for a creative and safe way to answer her child’s questions. Your reply felt harsh, provocative and unduly judgmental. I don’t think you fully understood the point she was making. Perhaps because you viewed it through a lens that filters out much of the important content while exaggerating and distorting – “seeing” things that aren’t there. For example, in your reply to me you take exception to the word “American”. This word is understood here to mean citizen of the United States of America. To say, “I am a United States of American” would be a needless burden on our tongues in casual conversation. It is an abbreviation of our country’s full name. We call ourselves “American” for the sake of brevity not because we think we own exclusive right to the name. Do you walk into a casual conversation and say, “mi nombre es Pedro Pablo Montalvo Ruano.” or do you say, “Mi nombre es Pedro”? 😉

      I hope my own words translate well here, I say them with the deepest respect – I don’t wish to sound harsh myself!

      There’s so much I could say about my concerns regarding this nation of ours and western society as a whole. I have written extensively about that for years but that’s not the subject of this post.

      Thank you sir for the engaging conversation.
      And thank you Kim for the opportunity.

  5. Desiray September 5, 2013 at 9:51 AM #

    Our kids and children are asking and you did good explaining it to him. I know many parents will probably not say nothing at all to their kids. But as parents it is our job to talk to our children. Amen

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