“Mommy, there’s a ninja on TV,” said my eight-year old daughter, whose current obsession is all things martial arts.
I glanced up and saw the masked, frightening face of an Islamic State of Iraq/Syria fighter, more commonly known as ISIL/ISIS. I quickly handed her my phone which provided a moment of distraction – enough time to turn off the television.
In our house, we don’t let our kids do screens during the week. No TV or iPads or DS electronics. We are by far the meanest parents on the block. But on weekends when we do watch TV, the cooking shows, football games and cartoons we see are crowded with cringe-worthy ads (think Viagra) and teasers for upcoming news programs. Hence, the ninja on the television.
As parents, we can limit the really scary stuff our kids see but we can’t shield them from everything. Talking about war is hard enough but talking about ISIS seems to open up even more difficult conversations. The violence they preach is so extreme and the ideals they claim to represent are beyond radical. What can we do?
Limit screen time
As military parents, our children likely know more about war than most kids, but even with a blurred-out face, an American on their knees with a sword to their throat is just too much for any kid. An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In our house, when my kids beg to watch a show or numb out on YouTube during the week, I grab the Swiffer and the vacuum and assign a chore. I know it’s a bit of an eye-roller but it works. They’ve quit asking (and consequently, my floors are disgusting.)
Find out what other kids are saying at school
We’d like to think that kids only talk about homework and other innocent things at school, but it’s not the case. Ask what your child’s friends are saying about what’s happening on the news and gauge how much others know. Then think carefully about what you want to say on the subject and how much information you plan to reveal.
Talk about it
Tell your children that there are people who disagree with what Americans believe in. Explain that this particular group has very radical ideas about religion and how it should control a person’s life and the laws of the town. Focus, too on what they can identify with. For instance, tell them that this group doesn’t believe that girls should go to school. And if you feel they are ready, you can explain that ISIL/ISIS sometimes kidnaps and kills people.
Explain who’s helping
This is always the best part of these conversations. Reassure your child that service members are trying to help the families that live there. Remind them that very few people in this world say that they are going to stand up and help those in need – but we do!
Even though kids may not be able to take direct action to help victims of ISIS violence, they can be a force of kindness by helping someone in their own community. Find ways for children to do something positive for those around them. Take artwork over to a local hospital. Volunteer at a food bank. Write letters to other kids whose parents are deployed. Or – keep it really close to home and have them run the vacuum for you.
Molly Blake is a freelance writer. Her husband recently retired after serving 20 years in the United States Marine Corps. She attended the University of Dayton and writes about issues affecting military families and other parenting issues. Follow her on twitter @mblakewrites.