What parents can learn from their kids about living with terror attacks

We want to hold them close; we need to let them go.
We want to hold them close; we need to let them go.
Image: Reuters
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Georgina Callander was one of the 22 people killed at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Monday night. According to the Evening Standard, she died in the hospital, with her mother by her side.

She was 18.

Amidst the many horrors of the latest UK terror attack is the reality that the things kids love to do will naturally be things terrorists want to target: concerts, Christmas fairs, walks along the beach. Kids crave energy and activity; they also crave freedom from us, their parents, the rational ones who tell them not to eat too much junk, stay up too late, or drink before they are ready to handle it.

Attacks like this will naturally lead us to ramp up our rational sides, to rein our kids in even more. Maybe we will discourage them from going to places that could be potential terror targets, or talk them out of travel to high-risk areas. We will seek to keep them close on the theory that somehow we can keep them safe.

But we can’t. Raising children is ultimately about losing control, and the shock and horror of last night’s attack is yet another reminder of how little control we have. We should punish the perpetrators, but not let it hinder our kids.

When kids are young, they can’t stand it when we leave them; they cry when we walk out the door, or punish us with bad behavior when we go away. And then suddenly, seemingly overnight, it is space they want, freedom from us, and the chance to explore the world on their own terms.

This can be scary. Teens brains develop from back to front; their risk appetite and emotion center grow much faster than their impulse control. So they drive too fast, drink too much, have sex, and dive off cliffs.

But that risk appetite is an integral part of growing up. Within reasonable boundaries, we shouldn’t let terrorism be yet another a reason to slow that down.

Hopefully, we have the guts to talk about the things they will need to navigate: sex, drugs, social media, pornography, and even terror. They probably won’t ever experience a terror attack, but it is something they and we will have to consider and learn how to process, because it is part of the world we live in.

And once we do that as parents, we should have the courage to defer to their sometimes risky instincts, and let them go to the concert, or travel to Paris.

My heart breaks for every parent who lost a child in Manchester Monday night, for those who still have not found their children or loved ones, and for children who face terror and need every day. My gut instinct is to move out of London (terror target), and live in the countryside, but I’ve now been through this enough to pause.

The advice politicians so often give after terrorist attacks applies to parents, too. Using a brutal, senseless act as a reason to stop letting kids be kids is letting the terrorists win.