How Young Is Too Young?
This past week, my daughter Charlie was told about 9/11 in her classroom at school. She is seven.
It hadn't even occurred to me that this would be a possibility. Charlie attends a top rated progressive public school in LA, with a wonderful caring staff and an emphasis on social-emotional learning. Way Of Council, a circle practice that nurtures attentive listening and speaking from the heart, lies at the core of the school. So when I received the message that Charlie's 2nd grade classroom had discussed 9/11, I was shocked, confused, furious and ultimately catapulted into another realm of parenthood that I was not prepared for.
Charlie was born and raised in NY until she was four. On some level I knew she would find out about this horrible time in her city, but I naively assumed it was years away. Last Tuesday I watched my daughter as she tried to wrap her young mind around these horrors, as her sense of security was pulled right out from under her. "How do we know this won't happen again Mama?" she asked. My heart broke into a million pieces in this one instant, because, for the first time I couldn't protect her from this kind of darkness. In the time that followed, Charlie woke with nightmares every night, dreaming she was in a burning building and couldn't get out. My anger, confusion and sadness towards the school swirled around in my gut as I tried to understand what possible educational purpose any of this had. I felt like it was all so wildly out of bounds - like any of my control and protection as a parent was snatched away without my permission.
Charlie strolling the streets of Greenwich Village, NY
My initial emotional reaction was to try and find a place for my blame - the school, the world at large. I wanted to grab my girls and run away into a forest somewhere, homeschool, get in touch with my inner radical hippie. But it's not that simple. This is an extremely nuanced issue with many sides. So how do we navigate this as parents and educators? If some kids know about 9/11 and some don't, is it better for them to hear about it in the classroom where a skilled educator can facilitate a conversation in a safe place? Or do we risk kids sharing stories on the playground without an adult there to field questions? And what is the boundary between school and home? Are there issues that parents should be able to reserve the right to discuss with their children before school does?
Two Boots Pizza, 11th Street & 7th Ave, NY
I am beginning to believe that our ideas as a society of what is "appropriate" for children are drastically changing. With the internet, and alarmingly high usage of screens, I am terrified that we are losing touch with how important it is for us to protect the magic and safety of childhood for as long as physically possible. We need to take the time to remember how sensitive and impressionable our children are. What incredibly vivid imaginations they have. And though we can't keep our children in a bubble forever, we must stop and ask ourselves, how young is too young?
Tompkins Square Park, NY