‘Awful, tragic, and needless’ were my initial reactions when I first saw the pictures emerging from the latest terror attack, this time striking at the very heart of our political democracy in London.
When I looked around the office, I saw similar looks of sadness, anger, and despair. But tellingly, none of shock.
My thoughts then turned to two people – firstly my son – many miles away from the scene of chaos, but no distance is ever going stop you worrying as a father. Second was Omran Daqneesh – the boy many will remember as the child in total shock sitting in the back of an ambulance, his fact covered by blood and dust in the aftermath of another Aleppo bombing.
There’s a striking and rather perverse connection between both thoughts – that the regularity of these attacks means we are all becoming increasingly de-sensitised to terror.
That doesn’t mean for a moment that the feelings of anguish and despair are weakened, nor should our resolve or acceptance of such inhumane acts. But I don’t think anyone can claim genuine shock or surprise by these horrendous acts anymore. We are at a greater risk than ever before. This in itself presents a new kind of challenge for parents, already grappling with trying to balance increasing pressures of work and home, of new online threats, or of ultimately just trying to bring a little joy to our children’s lives regularly.
Now we have to adapt again, and think about what happens to our children growing in a climate of constant, global, and more prevalent terror attacks?
A relatively short hop back in time to World War 2, gives us a glimpse of one extreme. Nearly 2 million children in the UK were evacuated from their homes at the start of the war, and they had to endure rationing, gas mask lessons, living with strangers etc, not to mention that children accounted for one in ten deaths during the Blitz in London of 1940-41. A study sample of those adults, who would have been children during WW2 showed, unsurprisingly, how much more they had a risk of suffering depression and clinical anxiety, with higher levels of self-criticism.
Never has the role of parent been more important, and there are principles of modern parenthood that mums and dads need to start thinking about:
1. Do talk about it – This isn’t something that’s going away, and one thing that always amazes me with young children is just how much they get it, even from a young age. It’s vital that children know as much as possible without it scaring or overwhelming them. Keep those lines of communication open at all times. We owe if to our children to give them the proper answers – not something they’ve just googled.
2. Be present – this isn’t the time for just digital connection anymore. Reinforcing actual physical time together – listening, hearing, responding will be one of the most important things we do. There are some very grave mental health issues that we increase the risk on for our children unless we address.
3. Establish the boundaries – with more of our children’s media, games and music becoming increasingly graphic and playable by groups of friends instantly, too, we need to ensure that even in the worst of times, some routine and recognisble boundaries are in place for our children.
4. Give them as many real role models as possible – at a time where we often hear about the lack of real role models and diversity across our corporate boardrooms, we need mums, dads, aunts, uncles, cousins etc to all be role models – to reassure and protect those younger as much as possible. With more information (real and fake) flying around like never before, our children need as big a circle of trust as possible.
Conversely, it’s in times like this that a genuine community can start to come together. Perhaps that’s an important lesson we can all learn better and impart on our children. They will, afterall, probably be the ones that can fully fix this in their lifetime.
A version of this post was originally published on the author’s Huffington Post blog and is republished here with permission from the author.
Photo credit: Getty Images