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This attack is different. It's different because it targeted children.
The bomb attack at the Ariana Grande concert in England evokes an all-too-familiar toxic mix of fear, anger and, worst of all, a kind of insidious fatigue. Can we once again face the stories of screams and blood, the piles of flowers? How much more can we take?
But it has this new element: The attack targeted the very teens who were enjoying the precious autonomy that a night out and away from their parents affords.
Concerts have long served this purpose in our culture, and it is for this reason that they are recalled with such unfettered nostalgic reverie.
And now we have a concert targeted by a suicide bombing. To be sure, this isn’t the first time tragedy has occurred at a pop music venue. We don’t need to go into all the examples of concerts that have gone terribly awry.
But this attack creates a new kind of dilemma: If concerts have made their way onto the list of bombing targets, and if concerts are to remain one of the most special places where we allow our teens to feel unencumbered by adult supervision, how are we as parents to respond?
In some ways, the solutions to our natural hand-wringing are actually more familiar than we might think at first. We have always had to fortify our children so that they can feel comfortable progressing along the developmental trajectory into adulthood. At the same time, we have always had to be mindful to balance our preparations with all of the risks that this parental unshackling entails. This has been part of parenting forever.
Still, is there something unique about this moment for parents? As the dust settles on the horrible events in Manchester, has the game changed?
It's an urgent question because there are real-time considerations. There are concerts this weekend here in Boston. Do we let our kids go? As a matter of fact, there’s a concert this weekend in almost every city in this nation and throughout Europe and around the globe. Have the rules changed? Do our children still get to attend?
There are no easy answers. But I'd argue that we cannot live in fear. We can’t put our children’s lives on hold. We do our children no favors, and arguably we fall short in our roles as parents, if we succumb to fear. That's because this kind of fear will fail to engender the very independence that our kids need to inherit our troubled world.
There will still be concerts. And concerts are meant to be, and will remain, hugely enjoyable. Kids will continue to utilize these venues as a means of spreading their wings, and we would be wrong and ill-advised to clip those wings. Unless things change drastically at concert after concert, we must ask ourselves some very important questions.
Do we want our children to grow up frightened and in the dark? Or do we want our children to emerge into adulthood aware of the risks but also relishing the independence that comes with risks reasonably taken?
I’d argue, both as a parent and as a child psychiatrist, powerfully for the latter. We need our children to appreciate that the world is far from perfect, but that it would be much less perfect if we chose to wrap ourselves in the misleading bubble wrap of avoidance and fear.
So let’s be practical. If your teen will be going to a concert, don’t be cavalier. Do your due diligence. Research the security of an event. Be available to your teens for questions. Ask your kids if they have concerns. Arrange a check in time via phone or text. Create a contingency plan should you need to get in touch.
These bits of advice are nothing new, but they are worth remembering when it feels like the playing field has so drastically changed.
Because, even if it has, we still need to help our kids to take the field.
Dr. Steve Schlozman is associate director of The MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
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