Many parents are wary of talking about world events to their young children, whether it’s a fear of scaring a child or a belief that kids should remain blissfully ignorant. But the police has stressed that parents need to educate their children on terrorism.
Earlier this month, Scotland Yard announced that youngsters across the UK need to be taught how to deal with a terror attack in the same way as adults.
The advice is now more apt than ever after last night’s Manchester attack in which a suicide bomber killed at least 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert.
Senior police believe it’s not right to try and protect children from the dangers of terrorism. The more aware young people are, the more they will be able to save themselves in a potential attack.
They advise introducing your children to the government’s Run, Hide Tell campaign which was launched after the Paris attacks of November 2015.
A four minute film, shown above, details three key steps that should keep you safe in an attack. Each step is very simple – and easy enough for a child to understand.
First, children should be taught to run from potential danger. Police believe that running to a place of safety is a much more promising option that attempting to negotiate or simply surrendering.
If there is nowhere to run to, children should hide from the attacker. If they are able to barricade themselves in a room, they should do so.
When they feel safe, they can call 999 and notify the police. But remember to tell them to keep their phone on silent or vibrate as any loud noises will alert an attacker to their location.
“We know that from case studies and the testimony of people who have survived attacks that the advice given in the film has saved lives,” deputy assistant commissioner, Neil Basu, said on behalf of National Counter Terrorism Policing.
He stressed that the police can only do so much, adding: “It is only with the ongoing support of communities that we can defeat terrorism – you are our eyes and ears so please be alert, but not alarmed.”
The UK’s terrorism threat level is currently at ‘severe’, meaning an attack is highly likely. It is unclear whether last night’s events may increase the threat level to ‘critical’.
Another assistant deputy commissioner, Lucy D’Orsi, explained that children need to be informed as many attacks take place in public spaces where they are likely to gather.
Speaking at the World Counter Terror Congress, she said: “When I was at school, everybody used to talk about ‘stranger danger’. That was the buzz phrase and it’s still a thing I remember today.”
“For me, that messaging needs to be to children as well as to the broader public. If we take a lot of our crowded places, we know that at key times, they are a hub that attracts a lot of young people to go to those places.”
Last year, an NSPCC report revealed that children are becoming more and more anxious about world issues. Offering reassurance and comfort can help relieve some of that worry but giving children a concrete plan of what to do during an attack is much more practical.
The head of NSPCC Helplines, John Cameron, confirmed this. He told The Huffington Post: “Children today are more exposed to world events than ever before and despite the urge to protect our children from what’s happening, [not talking to them] can mean their worries build up.”
Several primary schools have begun to teach their pupils about terrorism. In 2009, schoolchildren across Lancashire were taught how to look out for terror suspects.
Animated talking animals were used to help the youngsters spot potential signs of extremism with the main point being that a terrorist can look like anyone.
A Jewish primary school in London was given even more practical advice in 2015. Children aged 10 and 11 were trained to play ‘sleeping lions’ when an alarm sounded.
The routine involves children hiding under their desks in a similar manner to air raid protocols in the Second World War. “When the alarm goes off, we do a thing called sleeping lions,” one pupil told the BBC.
“We all go under our desks or chairs and cover our heads with our hands. You always feel like you have to pretend like it’s a real situation and be as silent as possible even though you probably know that there’s no one there.”
Schools in the States have terrorism plans in the case of an attack. However, some children admitted to feeling unsure of what to do if an attacker entered their school.
Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services in Ohio, said this was due to headteachers’ reluctance to discuss violence and similar issues.
“Fear is best managed through education, communication and preparation,” he said. “By not addressing these issues and operating with ‘ostrich syndrome’, schools are actually creating more fear and panic among parents and school officials. The key rests in context, balance and reasonable efforts. And of course, discussions with students must be age and developmentally appropriate.”
After the French terror attacks, schools believed it was up to them – rather than parents – to educate children on international terrorism. Children as young as three were taught games to learn how to stay quiet during an attack.
Primary school children learnt how to hide, play dead and escape in a series of ‘fun’ games that would encourage them to remember. However, some teachers were unhappy with the measures after a few children were left traumatised.
A Loose Women poll revealed that 59% of people thought three-year-olds were too young to know about terrorism with 41% disagreeing.
The message is: remember your child’s age and teach him or her appropriately. Don’t bury your head in the sand.
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