Family Issues

Can Kids Handle the Truth?


First Lady Laura Bush is advising the parents of America to take special care to protect their young ones on the first anniversary of 9/11. Not from the possibility of another surprise attack from overseas terrorists, but from the relentless and ruthless media barrage of remembrance that will be testing our nation's mettle all over again. (If your kids are mature enough to handle it, the First Lady does grant a dispensation for a little candle lighting on the infamous anniversary.)

First ladies—scrambling to justify their ceremonial quasi-official role in American life—are frequently inclined to offer sententious advice to Americans, their ceremonial children. Thus, Mrs. Bush's pronouncement was perhaps as inevitable as saturation coverage of major news events in a world with unprecedented and ever-growing broadcast minutes and pages to fill.

The first lady isn't the only one afraid of what the news media will bring tomorrow. Many major advertisers are pulling out of 9/11 entirely. The delicately balanced consensus opinion of these two major forces striving to meet Americans' desires—the professional news media and their underwriters—appears to be that Americans want to remember, but to do so in a non-commercialized context. Fair enough.

But is Mrs. Bush's advice good? When it comes to parenting choices, outside nudging in any direction can be equally inappropriate. But the first lady's anti-TV counsel is based on the notion that kids have especially delicate psyches, and need extra protection from the facts of reality when such facts are violent and unpleasant.

But children live in the same world as adults do, and are probably best off dealing with the facts—whether those facts be what happened last year on 9/11, or that the American mediasphere in which these children are growing and will live tends to run wild with the biggest story of the moment. And 9/11 has been the biggest story of the moment for a full year now—and doubtless will continue to be so. Kids should understand it, not hide from it.

We can thank Mrs. Bush for one thing: Her war against perceived media overkill is pitched in terms of choice. Unlike her predecessor Nancy Reagan, when she tells kids to just say no, there's nary a suggestion of legal strictures. Perhaps we have grown as a nation after all.