Thursday, September 8, 2011

School Counseling for September 12th

By Patrick O'Connor

The tenth anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 seems to be everywhere.  Talk shows are devoting the entire week to interviews and remembrances of those who were lost in the attacks.  Teacher Web sites are bursting at the seams with lesson plans for students of all ages.  With the day falling on a Sunday, the road side signs of churches promise sermon after sermon devoted to the context of the day from a larger view.

It would be easy enough to assume these activities won’t stir the memories of our students, or impact their daily lives.  This year’s high school seniors were seven years old the day the planes landed in New YorkWashington DC, and Pennsylvania, and the sixth graders of 2011 were barely walking in 2001.  Combined with the excitement of starting the school year, getting used to a new school, and applying for college, it would be an honest mistake to think the students aren’t touched by the events or memories of that day, and won’t pay much attention to the events of this weekend.

But it would still be a mistake.

Students may not have vivid memories of what happened ten years ago, but their parents will—and given the dynamics of that Tuesday morning and all that has happened in between, it’s understandable if parents aren’t able to be as objective as they usually would be when explaining complex issues to their children.

At the same time, some high school students may have very vivid memories of that day.  Their memory of the event may not be clear, but it’s likely they will remember some of what happened, and exactly where they were.  How many baby boomers will begin their discussion of the day John Kennedy was shot with “I was seven, and it was the end of lunch period at school…?”  Why would we expect dimmer memories of 9/11 from their much more tech-savvy children or grandchildren?

Some children may indeed not be impacted at all by the events of this weekend, but as is the case with all good counseling, the best plan is to have a plan.  If you haven’t already done so, take a minute to put together some tips for parents on how they should talk with their children about 9/11, and how to be prepared if the guest speaker in the church, synagogue, or mosque surrenders to the emotions of the moment. It’s not too late to send out a last-minute e-mail with this information, and many parents will thank you for it (a Google search of “talking to your children about 9/11” yields some mighty fine resources.)

Remind parents of the importance of monitoring TV and computer time this weekend.  It’s always a good idea to keep technology in check, but all of the commemorative events being broadcast can quickly turn an interest in history into an obsession with security.

Give parents the skills and words to use to make sure their children end the weekend with as strong a sense of safety as possible.  That is always a nuanced task, but parents will welcome any ideas you can lend, as long as they are presented as options, not recipes or dictums. Support their innate abilities to know how to love their children, and all will go well.

Finally, be prepared for business as un-usual September 12.  It’s unlikely any students will walk up to you and say “I’m having some real concerns about 9/11”, but there’s always a chance one or two may have a concern that is being acted out at school instead of being asked in your office. A gentle reminder to your colleagues that you (or someone else) has a fairly open calendar on Monday, combined with a little CWA—Counseling by Wandering Around—can reassure students and faculty alike that a listening ear and helping hand awaits, should the need arise.

This is indeed a busy time, with students starting new years and building bright futures.  Those plans need not be dimmed as our nation takes an appropriate pause this weekend to look at what has passed.  With the right words and an open office door, we can show our students how to do both with poise, respect, and an egoless sense of self.

As a modest effort to honor those lost in the 9/11 attacks, all proceeds from any copy of College is Yours 2.0 purchased during 9/11 weekend will be donated to the Twin Towers Orphan Fund, devoted to supporting the educational and healthcare needs of the children who lost one or more parents in the 2001 attacks.  More information can be found under the Weekly Column at<>

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