Protecting children from the psychological effects of terror
Nearly 300 people have died in terror attacks targeting civilians in Turkey in the past year. The sadness created by the attack in Suruç and the ongoing clashes in the southeastern provinces has spread beyond the borders of the region, but as you know, the ones who experience most of the trauma are those who are closest and those exposed for longer periods, as well as their friends and relatives.
But now, we can talk about the sadness and trauma that have spread to the entire society; because after Oct. 10, 2015, violence arrived in the big cities. Our psychology turned upside down with attacks at the centers of Ankara and Istanbul which we assumed were very well protected and where intelligence was very strong.
We are concerned and we are afraid. This is us, but what about the children? How are we going to assure that the children made to live side by side with violence will not become damaged grownups?
Koç University Professor Bilge Selçuk said the child does not fully understand when they hear their parents talk at home and everything that is not understood well creates anxiety: “Since self-control mechanisms have not been completed in children, managing and controlling these rising anxiety and fear sentiments are much more difficult for them.”
This is the only subject spoken in cities where a bomb goes off every month: “Let’s not go out of the house; let’s not go to crowded places; let’s not ride the metro, let us be careful about suspicious looking people on the streets; we should tell children to look out.”
And they do so: “Oh, my son, or oh, my daughter, be careful. Look around.”
Selçuk said we should refrain from such advice: “You are giving the information to the child about threatening factors in an environment he or she cannot control. By saying ‘be careful protect yourself,’ the child’s anxiety level and stress are increased. Long-term stress and anxiety can disrupt both physical and spiritual health. Learning, sleeping and eating disorders may occur.”
More importantly, this kind of parental advice guide the child to look for threats. The child starts examining the physical features of people around, their clothes and their movements. This threat perception stemming from this powerful insecurity also results in the emergence of discrimination within society. When people start perceiving anything different than them as a potential threat, then they start developing hostile feelings to anybody dissimilar.
“If it were possible to spot terrorists through their looks, then intelligence officers would be able to work easily. Burdening a child, a young person with an impossible job that most advanced security organizations fail at will disrupt his or her health as well as causing discrimination, otherizing and animosity in society.”
Well then, what should we do? Are we not going to mention any of these matters to children?
Information should be given to children in a simple language, not loaded with anxiety and discriminatory language. While doing so, the responsibility and the burden should be lifted off the child: “We should teach our children solidarity and unity within a society without discriminating against anyone. Politics sometimes benefits from discriminating and polarizing people. It wants the sides to be sharpened. We ordinary people are not part of politics. We, free from all kinds of political stance, should independently protect fundamental human values, recognize victims and be insistent on a life in peace.”