My kids are not growing up in the era where the big fear is nuclear war, the way I did. I remember nuclear war being the most feared large scale disaster. What if the other country pushes the big red button? I remember movies like The Day After captivating audiences for the fear it stirred up back in 1983 as it showed what would happen if the Soviet Union and the U.S. ever had a nuclear exchange. At age10, it scared me but I didn’t know enough about the intricacies of nuclear energy to fully realize all the consequences. I simply knew it scared many of the adults around me and that it would equal mass destruction.
On the other hand, my kids have been schooled in terrorism so to speak. My eight-year-old uses the word terrorism in common language. My 13-year-old was just four years old on September 11 when the towers fell, and she vividly recalls leaving her preschool with her sweater draped over her face so she didn’t breathe in the floating cinders. Terrorism they know and can speak about but nuclear meltdowns are a new lesson in the learning.
What has been difficult is deciphering what is really going on in Japan now so I can give them the right information. Depending on what newspaper you read (possibly even which edition) and what channel you are tuned in to, you will get a different story. I told them that there is no way any harmful amounts of radioactivity are going to reach the U.S. only to see this morning’s news that a radioactive plume cloud may indeed hit California by tomorrow. While many California parents are stocking up on potassium iodide pills, most agree that it’s not necessary.
Initially, experts said that a meltdown was not even near close, while others say a meltdown is imminent. A physics professor was just speaking on the local NYC news and he said that Three Mile Island was by far much worse in nature and yet only one death caused by cancer was directly linked to it.
It’s not only the networks and their individual political agendas that make getting the correct information difficult. Japan apparently gives one report while the U.S. gives another, and the U.S. paints a more ominous picture. Some say the situation is far more severe than any Japanese officials are letting on. Then again, you have to look behind which news agency is putting out the information.
So a lesson in nuclear energy and warfare turns to a discussion about the media which opens up a whole different can of worms. It starts with the media driven networks and escalates into the intention behind the sensationalist news media- to drive fear. Why would they want to make people afraid? To get more ratings. Why would they want more ratings? To make more money. Then we delve into capitalism.
It was much easier when my kids were younger and I could turn on Nickelodeon and tune out the world news. That’s exactly what I did during 9/11. I put on Blue’s Clues which was the only station I had that was not streaming the horror of the days and weeks to come.
Yet when they are still very small, they pick up the news and hold it in their little heads even if they don’t fully understand what is going on. In the days that followed 9/11, our Pre-K teacher said the children were making buildings out of Legos that would get hit and fall down for many weeks.
Shielding your kids from major world events is unrealistic. Once kids are 3 or 4 and go to school, they will inadvertently hear things. Unless you are going to hide the newspapers and cover their ears, they will know something is going on. Bad things do happen and the best thing you can do for your kids is help them understand the specifics. What is an earthquake? What is a tsunami? What is a nuclear reactor?
I also would like to give my kids the best answers possible concerning world news for their appropriate ages. Of course, I’d like to know what was really going on myself. I think the best thing and possibly the only thing I can do is teach them to think for themselves, read everything and then try to interpret the truth. While not fully possible with my eight-year-old just yet (he is still content with hearing the straight facts), it is certainly the right time for my 13-year-old to learn this lesson.
It’s a lesson that will be utilized for the rest of their lives in various different situations.
Do you think we are getting the right information regarding Japan and its impending nuclear situation? Do you think Japan is downplaying the situation? What are you telling your kids about it?