Bin Laden’s Death, Media, & Kids: Teach Your Children Well

May 2, 2011 (At left, forthcoming Time magazine cover this week)

Hmn. Thoughts? As one tweet said,

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King Jr (see media lit lesson on the quote here)

It’s clearly been a week of real life “Disney-esque” media moments from Princess fairytale weddings to the “bad guy gets it in the end” death of über-villain Osama Bin Laden, so it’s EXTRA essential to unpack the media morass beyond the sound bite in an age appropriate manner for kids and in a mindful, contextual frame of reference for adults.

I don’t know about you, but watching people rejoice in the nation’s capitol, tossing beachballs in the air (where do they even GET those on a Sunday night at that hour?) seemed like environs for ‘Animal House’ rather than White House…with maybe a dash of ‘grad night/prom’ theme thrown in.

As a circumspect former military brat who has written extensively about 9-11 terrorism, kids and headline news (see links at the end) this gave me the heebie jeebies with concern for the larger global context for citizens abroad, international public perceptions, and children’s take on this historic incident. It’s far too easy to reduce our entire country into a cartoonish media stereotype and I’d argue it’s in our ‘national interest’ (safety, economic, and otherwise) to rein in our editorializing and lob some circumspection into the media mix. “Just sayin” as the kids might say…

Shaping Youth child development adviser Dr. Robyn appears to agree, calling this the “ding dong the enemy is dead” approach to media coverage, as she expressed here in 8 Things Parents & Educators Must Know.

While old media and new media raced to see who would have the first, best, most insightful, or deepest  TruthDig (drilling beneath the headlines, like this piece with Chris Hedges) marketers started pumping out tee shirts and tchotchkes (as Adweek quipped, “c’mon, you’re surprised?”).

Admittedly, I’m more interested in the scads of articles proliferating about “what to say to kids” (WSJ) …mostly to see if any go beyond visceral reaction, quotable tots or simple tips to offer a ‘deeper dive’ of usable solutions-based tools.

Aside from Shaping Youth’s prior post, “The 411 on 9-11: What To Say To Children About Headline News” Nope, not really.

I won’t belabor the topic, as many of us already have mass media fatigue looking at the impact of the news from multiple facets.

From the micro view (my own daughter: “Dad? Do you REALLY have to fly today?” –turns out SFO was ‘eerily empty’) to the macro view of Twitter becoming new media’s Times Square with an average of 3,000 tweets per second (Reuter’s Lauren Young tweeted that when Obama spoke 7.8M were watching CNN, 4.8M on Fox, 2.3M on MSNBC and 12.4M on Twitter) we seem to be straddling fear and fist-pumping ‘yes’ in one big Facebook status line summation…”It’s complicated.”

The ‘what’s next’ inevitability of pragmatics, logistics, and diplomacy regarding media’s portrayal of the burial of this figurehead mashes up with the larger scale ‘what’s next’ of separating the figurehead from the movement.

One tweet I caught said, “CNN said his death is the end of the War on Terror and I’m afraid that could be as wrong as “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Personally, I hope educators and parents will “debrief” themselves and then uncork some carefully nuanced dialogues that NEED to be put forth to youth throughout the globe with consistency. (particularly differentiating Islam from the agenda of al-Qaeda) All too often we shrug it off to the schools and the media to ‘frame’ the cultural canvas for us, and to me, that’s a VERY slippery slope.

Take for example some of the vapid values put forth by the ‘celebrification’ of America, and the amplification and distortions when these same ‘influencers’ speak out on topics as layered and complex as terrorism.

You end up with celebrities tweeting about Bin Laden.

I mean, c’mon people…

Are we REALLY going to let kids get their context about Osama Bin Laden from pop culture ‘icons’ like SnoopDogg and Katy Perry dropping F bombs right and left?

No wonder the world perceives us as idiots.

(Hold the flame mail trolls, I’m speaking in blanket generalizations on purpose; and Snoop, you’re a dawg for pimping poison to kids via alcopops so don’t talk to me about ‘happily ever after’ scenarios while you’re trashing our own urban youth; if you want to take issue, bring it!)

For those who DO want to uncork nuanced conversations with youth one on one, but sometimes feel overwhelmed by data or under educated about those zingers that come at you over dinner, “So I don’t get the difference between Muslim and Islam?” (as families whip out their handy Google search apps under the table) I’ll save you some time and lob some ‘favorite’ links from the last 24 hours of coverage to add some noshable tidbits and key talking points into ‘resource roundup’ short form style.

For tough questions kids ask at ALL ages, here’s a handy cheat sheet called  “” a great site filled with a data snap of key terms flinging hither and yon in most any conversation. (For example: “Difference Between Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden)

It really helps with differentiating similar terms and objects whether you’re a student, a parent, or a second language learner…Another quick click media must along those lines is “How Stuff Works”(‘how terrorism works? sheesh)

Finally, here’s a recap (below) with some of my key links to deconstructing headline news.

If we as a nation want youth to have media literacy beyond Public Enemy #1 portrayals which are very deeply rooted in our Wild West/frontier and “America’s Most Wanted” (visual credit at left) heritage, we need to take a media approach that extends beyond back-patting and flag-waving nationalism to remind ourselves the lens through which the children see. We need to ‘Teach Our Children Well.’

Here are a few snippets to think about as you’re confronted with childrens’ innocence, role play, frivolity, or for that matter, fears…As you read through them, I’ll reiterate the Gandhi quote I closed with prior, to reach and teach with media literacy:

If we are to have real peace, we must begin with the children.” –Gandhi

SY Advisory Board member Dr. Robyn Silverman sums simply,

“How can we sing out: “Ding Dong the Enemy is Dead” when we continually teach our children that harming others—or rejoicing in the pain of others– is not OK? Is such joy warranted when new threats have been issued? By cheering at the death of Bin Laden, do we do the same thing that we condemned when others danced in the streets after September 11? It’s a tough situation to come to terms with when so much death and fear has been at the hands of this one man.”

Our friends at Boston Children’s Hospital (home of Michael Rich, “The Mediatrician”) wrote this piece by Tripp Underwood interviewing Roslyn Murov, MD a pediatrician and director of Human Services at Martha Eliot Health Center, who also acted as a child psychiatry liaison at Children’s Hospital Boston at one point in her career. Murov, her husband and their son were living in New York City when the Twin Towers were attacked, and says the news of bin Laden’s death was very emotional for her and her family.

Adweek’s “Required Reading The Best From Around the Web” sums:

Steve Coll, The New Yorker: Notes on the Death of Osama bin Laden “On the constructive side: The loss of a symbolic, semi-charismatic leader whose own survival burnished his legend is significant… On the other hand: Al Qaeda is more than just a centralized organization based in Pakistan.”

Daniel Byman, Foreign Policy: Osama Bin Laden is Dead, Al Qaeda Isn’t “Let’s begin with some notes of caution.  As any expert will tell you, one of bin Laden’s biggest successes is creating an organization that will survive him.”

Kate Zernike and Michael T. Kaufman, The New York Times: The Most Wanted Face of Terrorism “He styled himself a Muslim ascetic, a billionaire’s son who gave up a life of privilege for the cause. But he was media savvy and acutely image conscious; before a CNN crew that interviewed him in 1997 was allowed to leave, his media advisers insisted on editing out unflattering shots.”

International Business Times: OBL: Dead & Buried At Sea, Conspiracy Theories & Unanswered Questions (visual credit OBL/Reuters most wanted visual)

Digital Shepherds: How To Avoid Online Scams: (Hacks/Embeds In OBL News/Photos)

Washington Times offers these additional links to similar finds:

Epic Parent: 7 Lessons to teach Your Children About Osama Bin Laden’s Death.

Seattle Examiner: Teaching Children about evil, the death of Bin Laden

Syracuse Online:  Tips for Parents on Talking to Children about Osama Bin Laden’s Death

Video Below by

Shaping Youth’s 9-11/Osama Bin Laden Resource Roundup:

Deconstructing Headline News; Impact on Children

9/11 and Children: by Rutgers University; Kay E. Vandergrift

I find this one to be one of the most globally comprehensive and inclusive, with useful adjunct resources and quotes that convey holistic thinking. Her extensive links address a wide range of cultural issues with global context. Sections include:Vandergrift’s global children’s literature page, Islamic traditions/Muslim culture, deprivation/poverty & the dispossessed (biblio of picture books here) the culture of violence in picture books and in guns, games, and war. (extensive link list) Rutgers commemorates 9/11

9/11 What Should We Tell Our Children Georgetown University’s History News Network, & recent follow-up links that delve deeper in context: Teaching About 9/11

Children Now: Talking With Kids About the News Excellent specific talking tips on terrorism (complete with role play) and a solid roundup of web link resources on terrorism/tragedies of various kinds

Sourcewatch: The Path To 9/11: This Sourcewatch site is great for deconstructing ‘front organizations’ and figuring out who’s funding/creating media, from books to broadcast. (In this case, it’s the 9/11 docudrama mini-series produced by ABC/Disney)

9/11 As History: A multi-dimensional program, from tips and resources to lesson plans and student writing, from the Families & Work Institute

In The Name of God A celebration of the rebirth of cinema in Pakistan, this new film was brought to my attention by a dear, dear media friend, global social consciousness educator and Pakistani movie star Simi Raheal. I met fellow GWLN delegate Simi while representing the U.S. at the Women Leaders for the World conference and we’re now aligning some of our mutual media efforts to overlap where we can as agents of change. She’s an amazing woman, who dares to boldly tread on touchy turf, and this film is no exception. The movie addresses the complexity of living life as a Muslim post-9-11, often being pre-judged and feared, as part of a music storyline within the film. (needless to say, it makes an important point about how fundamentalist regimes don’t speak for the entirety of a nation’s people; I’m looking forward to seeing it debut someday in the U.S. rather than via trailer on YouTube!)

Alternatives to 9-11 by Michele Martin, at The Bamboo Project blog, who uses the brief Stuart Brown video/slideshow from American Public Radio’s Animals At Play which features a husky and a polar bear in a poignant lesson of faith, vulnerability, character and spirit…talk about ‘family values’ as the values of mankind…

How to Talk to Children About Terrorism: (31pp. pdf public service primer by PhD Lawrence Shapiro)

Mental Health America: Coping With Tragedy (Facts, stats, updates on impact of 9/11) Common responses and symptoms to war/uncertainty; PTSD, anxiety, etc.

Children and 9/11: Art Helping Kids Heal by National Geographic News

Classroom Curric-Exercises/Media Literacy & News:

Talking with Kids about Headline News (PBS Parents)

Create Your Own Media Headline (How media is made/interactive)

Teach Kids News (Grades 2-6)

Rebooting The News (great links/roundup of SLJ edu tools too!)

The News Literacy Project (How to Know What to Believe–digital lit)

MIT/Reconstructing: A classroom exercise; reflections on humanity and media after tragedy (deconstructing media w/analysis of sound/news footage, etc.)

Talking With Kids About Tough Subjects (Before everyone else does)

World Affairs Council: Global classroom, 31pp curriculum in pdf: Teaching Media Literacy Through the Topic of Terrorism (middle/high school)

American Red Cross/Facing Fear: Free Downloadable Curriculum for K-12

PBS Teachers: Media Literacy Sites & Programs Great list of links, shows, topics, guides and more

Media Literacy Clearinghouse Frank Baker has links out the wazoo on multiple areas of specialization as well as allied orgs (see our blogroll sidebar)

How to Talk to Your Child About the News Simple overview/KidsHealth primer

Kids Health: Primer/How Kids Perceive the News

Media Literacy 101: How to Detect Fear-Mongering

Watching TV News: How to Be A Smarter Viewer

Update: 7-20-2012 Adding Context: Mass Shootings in the USA since 2005

100 Key Ethics & Media Law Resources for Journalists

Media Literacy  on Headline News +Tough Topics

by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

Quaking Kids, Headline News: How Much is Too Much? (Japan)

The 411 on 9-11: What To Say to Kids About Headline News

Resource Roundup/Talking To Kids (Terrorism topics etc)

Virginia Tech Tragedy: Media Coping Tips

What Will Kids Learn About Dr. George Tiller…And From Who?

Role Modeling Resiliency: How Are Kids Coping Skills?

Mass Media Has A Role to Play in Curbing Violence (news)

SchoolLoop: Digital Voice Alert (Siren SoundOff: Media Call)

Media, Kids & Grief: Different Ages & Stages of Loss

Update: May 4, 2011

Shaping Youth Advisory Board Member/Child Dev Doctor Robyn Silverman on Today Show This Morn (These TV media clips/pundit practices only scratch the surface, sure wish mainstream media would strategically align with digital resources that deep dive so we can actually raise the collective knowledge IQ of humanity (as Dr. Doug Engelbart would say)

Here’s Robyn’s updated post on her blog to add to the prior “8 Tips” piece we linked to above. Thanks, Robyn, for adding a link at the end to  Shaping Youth’s (admittedly exhaustive) media literacy resources 😉



  1. thanks so much for listing Epicparent as a resource. I really do appreciate it.

  2. Amy, your guidance is superb…very comforting to me and I will pass it on to all the parents I know. Thank you for being wonderful, sensible, inspiring, and right on target as usual. And, WOW, thanks for the resources — got anymore links?:)(I have to admit your thoroughness is a little intimidating to this blogger!)

  3. Hi Janet, yah, I know, the research and link-laden resources IS a classic case of ‘tmi’ but…I’m of the firm belief (looking at our SY analysis etc) tracking ‘who comes here and why’ that the journalists and educators need digital tools and data to help their work just as much as the parents and kids…so I figure people can ‘pick and choose’ their ‘takeaways’ in order to land somewhere solid and grounded in the media mix. 😉

  4. Rubie Fitterer says

    My nephew recommended this blog and he was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  5. We’re just a few weeks away from the release of this new book on August 1, and less then 3 months away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11. When the Lights Go Out will find wide interest at that time.

    You will find a news release and additional information on a special blog located at

    When the Lights Go Out, for readers 8 and up, so we never forget what happened on 9/11.

    Max Elliot Anderson

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