Every generation has its "where were you when" moments. For boomers, it's JFK's assassination, or maybe man's first step on the moon. For those younger, it may be the Challenger disaster or Princess Diana's car crash.
Remember what you were doing around 8 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, when the terrorists struck? If you're an adult, most likely you do. But teens? Perhaps not.
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Students entering ninth grade this year were 4 years old when 9/11 happened, and they and their high school peers are the last of their generation to have firsthand memories of it. Most likely those recollections are faint. Some teenagers might recall their morning cartoons being interrupted, or later the flags flying up and down their street. Others may have participated in a moment of silence in elementary school. A few may have even sensed the disbelief and sadness at the time.
Children who did not witness history may not fully comprehend the nation-changing event. Since understanding the past is key to negotiating the future, parents and teachers have the awesome responsibility of ensuring that they are aware of what 9/11 has meant to America.
That's easier said than done. An Associated Press story this week told how from coast to coast educators continue to grapple with a curriculum for teaching Sept. 11. Textbooks are of little help, researchers say, as some devote only a page to it.
Parents also may struggle to explain the events to their children. Talking about it can evoke strong emotions for them, even 10 years later, and they certainly don't want to frighten their kids. But it's important to note that even those who saw the continuing live coverage as a youngster need to rethink the events and come to a new understanding of them, Dr. David Schonfeld, an expert on developmental behavior, told the AP.
There is no shortage of helpful resources. Classroom lesson plans are available online from nonprofit groups devoted to promoting understanding. Lessons that teach the significant realities but also emphasize positives, such as patriotism, tolerance and service, are especially beneficial.
Parents can log on for advice, too, The website 911memorial.org has a page called "Talking to your children about 9/11." It tells them they should not avoid difficult questions and that it's OK not to have all the answers.
"What affects one in a major way, affects all in a minor way," said Martin Luther King Jr., whose murder was another moment etched in the mind of Americans. The generation who watched the events of Sept. 11 unfold felt the tragedy in a major way. All who follow will experience the results of 9/11 in smaller but still poignant ways. Schools this week are holding assemblies and class discussions. But we all must commit to ensuring the dialogue is not a once-a-decade event and instill in our young people a resolve to work toward a safer, kinder, more tolerant society.