Following street celebrations over Osama bin Laden’s death, parents and teachers grappled on May 2 with a weighty question: how to explain to children when, or if, it is acceptable to kill another human being.
Many treaded lightly on the difficult subject, allowing children to ask questions and stating their own mixed feelings about bin Laden’s dramatic death. Others tried to connect the takedown in purely historical terms—an event directly linked to the 9/11 attacks that bin Laden orchestrated at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Still others avoided it altogether.
“This could be very confusing to a child who has just learned ‘Thou shall not kill,’” said Dan Gill, who is a family therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. “These are deep moral discussions. Each family is going to have to [think about] how to answer these questions.”
Kirsten Lambert, who lives in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood, said that she had not yet decided how she wanted to present the situation to her 6-year-old and 3-year-old sons, who were not alive when 9/11 occurred.
“I am sort of taking a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach [for the moment],” Lambert said. “I think it is such a complex issue. … It is hard to explain, or try to explain, to a first-grader.”
But in many households and classrooms with children who have grown up in a post-9/11 reality marked by terrorism alerts and security precautions, the topic proved unavoidable.
At York Community High School in Illinois’ DuPage County, Lindsey DiTomasso set aside a lesson in her U.S. history class about McCarthyism to address bin Laden’s death head on.