Juliette Kayyem: Every parent fears leaving a child at a show and never seeing her again
She says what we can do is empower kids with a plan for such situations; make them fearless
Editor’s Note: CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem is the author of the best-selling “Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home.” She is a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, host of the national security podcast “The SCIF” and founder of Kayyem Solutions, a security consulting firm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
No victim of terror is deserving. But the attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, on Monday night feels different. It reaches into the core fear of any parent – that you could send your child off to an event and for reasons that are cruel and evil never see them again.
By now, if you follow the news, you know the drill in these situations: a potential suspect and possible suicide bomber; a search for his colleagues and family; an emerging likelihood that he was known to authorities before. I am a national security analyst. This is the zone I work in.
But I also have three children. Grande plays often on our car radio. She is not a typical pop star: she is tough and feisty, she represents everything we want our daughters to become. Fearless.
No parent is thinking about raising fearless kids right now. Their kids will be tied to them by their metaphoric leashes for the foreseeable future. That’s the real power of this attack: not only are the victims so particularly undeserving, they are also among the most vulnerable in the immediate aftermath when terror like this strikes.
They are searching for their parents and in many cases their parents are not there. Some of the images that have been cropping up on social media and TV show waiting parents – waiting just like I have for my kids at events – standing outside the auditorium, banished to the other side. It is a source of humor – “mom, you wait here” – and we send our kids off to enjoy themselves. Because we want them to be fearless.
I have worked a lot of disasters in my lifetime as a homeland security official. And the pictures from Manchester show what is the case in all of these attacks: the undeniable, unbearable need for family unification.
Are my children OK? When families are unified, the sense of panic disappears. They are then willing to leave the site. Indeed, in reviews of the Boston Marathon bombing response, the quick action of police officers to move remaining and uninjured runners to impromptu sites for family reconciliation did immeasurable good in limiting the panic and moving the city forward.
So, if we are to learn anything from this, it is not to never leave your kids out of your sight. We need them to be resilient and fearless. It is to take the necessary precautions beforehand and empower yourself and them should something happen. Where will you meet? Who will they be with? Is there a home or nearby area to reconvene? Teach them to see something and say something. Empower them as you would empower yourself.
I’ve heard it before: what a horrible world that such a thing like this could happen. I know. But we cannot wish, hopelessly, for some alternative world where our kids are free from harm. We will be wishing forever.
What we can do is work to manage our own safety and security, to bring it home with our kids in ways that they can understand. Empower them. Make them fearless in a world with too much fear.