How to Talk to Kids about Terrorism

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By Ellen Martin

“What is ISIS?”

“Did they ever find that man momma? That man with the mask. The one they said killed people.”

These are questions my children, ages 10 and 8, have asked me. We do not own a TV. Their screen time is limited and carefully chosen. Still they know something of terrorism.

We discuss current events at dinner. They have heard stories of September 11, 2001. They have seen officers in uniform throughout their lives. They know the name Osama Bin Laden. They have seen the face of Johnny Jihad at magazine stands. We live in this world, so they know something of terrorism.

Some kids do not ask pointed questions, but every child sees and hears. They know something of terrorism, even if they don’t know what it is. When kids do ask questions because they heard a new word and need its meaning, how do we protect their innocence and guide them in this age of terrorism? We can dismiss their questions or politely excuse them as adult concerns. It is nothing for them to be worried about, and we move along to the next conversation. We can ignore the officer in uniform, and turn off the news when they enter the room. Why not? Terrorism is ugly and brutal. It is not G-rated, not even PG-13. For most reading this, it is not a reality at our back door. Why worry our children about terrorism? Terrorism is a great face of darkness and evil in this world. Terrorism is also an opportunity for our families to follow the way of the cross by faith in love.

A man committed to the righteous ways of sacred teachings stood against any who blasphemed his god. He stood and oversaw the brutal killings of those who followed The Way until The Way met him face to face. We call the man Saul, and The Way is Jesus. This is a story of terrorism we can tell our children.

A man would not comply with the religious authorities. A man was targeted by religious leaders, He was falsely accused, and his death was demanded by the Jewish people for his blasphemy against God. The story that leads us to the cross is a story of terrorism, and in that story, we are not the good guys! But, there is good news. Though sin compelled us to kill the Savior of the World, his power over death made a way to destroy our sin and set us free. We who were his enemy are now his friend. This is a story of terrorism we must tell our children.

Through Scripture readings, we can tell our story of good news to our children day by day, week by week. Through prayer, we can shine light into the darkness, bring hope where there is despair, and cast all our fears on Jesus because He cares for us. As families, we can pray for those who suffer at the hands of terrorism today and also for the terrorists who cause the suffering. We can read Scripture to guide our response to terrorism. We can raise our children to be the people of God in this age of terrorism.

When we tell our story of faith to our children, apply it to terrorism, and pray with them against the evil of terrorism, three things can happen. First, we can grow in relationship as a family. Second, we can develop our understanding of terrorism as those who believe Jesus is Lord. Lastly, relationship and understanding can equip us to respond to terrorism as the people of God across generations: to love our enemies, to bless them and not curse them (Luke 6:27-28); to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

How do we use this age of terrorism as an opportunity to disciple our children? Every family is different. There is no one-size-fits-all response. Your response must be fitting for your family. My children will not see images of deaths at the hands of terrorists. I will continue to change the radio station when the news report becomes too adult. I will also continue to answer their questions. I will not fear for their innocence to be lost through fitting dialogue. I will trust that as they learn about the darkness of terrorism that Christ in us will be light and hope for others in this world. I will believe that the conversion of the terrorist, Saul, to Paul, the church leader, is the power of Christ then and now. I will believe that the enemy of Christ can be made his friend by the death and resurrection of Christ.

Terrorism is dark, but the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out. Come what may in this age of terrorism, we can raise our children to believe the power of Christ is greater than any evil. Terrorism cannot beat the victory of Jesus over sin and death no matter how dark it may be. This is good news! May we guide our children in this age of terrorism with the cross showing the way.

~ Ellen Martin is a regular contributor to the Soul Care Collective.

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