Today marks the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. However, parents might not realize that children see the attacks as a distant historical event that happened before they were born. They just doesn’t connect to it in the same way young adults and those who were alive when it happened do.
To tackle that challenge HBO is releasing What Happened on September 11, a documentary meant to explain the events of 9/11 to children. The movie premieres tonight at 6pm EST.
“Designed in response to children’s questions about the attacks, the film features kids in conversation with survivors and family members, historical segments, and classroom scenes exploring 9/11 through artwork and poetry,” according to HBO’s description of the new documentary.
The film follows Secaucus Middle School students as they visit the 9/11 Tribute Museum. There, they listen to firsthand accounts of people who witnessed the attack. This includes Stephen Kern, who was evacuated from the North Tower, and Matthew Crawford, whose father, a firefighter, was killed in the South Tower. In addition, the film includes background information on Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and the events leading up to the attack.
The film also shows the students processing their feelings about the attack through creativity.
“Back in the classroom, the students create art projects and write poems about 9/11, an assignment their teachers Melissa Heintjes and Doug Depice give as part of a unique interdisciplinary approach to teaching 9/11, helping kids make an ‘emotional connection to history,’” said HBO.
By listening to firsthand accounts, exploring the history behind the attacks, and interpreting them through art, the students in What Happened on September 11 learn about a terrible but important chapter in American history in order to understand how it still affects our lives to this day.
How can you educate children about September 11th beyond this documentary? Psychologist Blanca Cobb told WFMY News that the most important thing is to be factually and emotionally honest.
“When you talk to your kids about 9/11, stick to the facts,” she said. “Explain what happened based on your kid’s developmental level. For younger kids, broad statements will work whereas older kids might want and can handle more details.”
Cobb said parents should emphasize the sacrifices of the heroes who gave their lives and stressed being upfront about your own feelings. “If you’re teary eyed, it’s more than okay to show your emotion.”
“Some kids may not recognize the importance or understand the reasons you’re talking about 9/11, an event that happened almost two decades ago,” said Cobb. “You can help them understand all the ways our country continues to protect us. A terrorist attack is a possible and realistic danger facing our country. And kids should understand this possibility while continuing to live smartly and safely.”