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The Norway Tragedy: When Reality is Worse than Fiction

After the recent massacre in Norway, parents must address their kids’ very real fears regarding natural parts of daily life, and they must admit that some monsters actually do exist.

Parents have always had to deal with quashing their children’s unrealistic fears. From stories, books and movies, children become familiar with a cast of loathsome characters. Monsters and villains seem to jump out of books, or off of the silver screen, and into children’s minds. There, they haunt their thoughts and make them fear the dark and the unknown.

Think back to your own childhood. What was it that you feared most?

Perhaps you were afraid that vampires or werewolves would transform you into an ungodly beast, or that zombies would eat your brain.

Your parents probably spent a good deal of time teaching you the difference between reality and make-believe. They surely told you that these things weren’t real, that they were the products of imagination and folklore.

Remember Freddy Kruger? He’s the bad guy from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. You were probably afraid of him, too. I bet you were scared to go to sleep for a while, anxious that he’d invade your dreams and take you.

Again, I’m sure your parents reminded you that Freddy wasn’t real. Undoubtedly, they explained the stagecraft of Hollywood to you, the concepts of masks, makeup, props and fake blood.

Another story comes to mind—the one about the madman who terrorized a pleasant summer camp, murdering dozens of teenagers at will. Does this story sound familiar? Sounds like the plot of the Friday the 13th movie series, right?

Wrong. This isn’t the fictitious story of Jason Vorhes and Crystal Lake. It’s the story of something and someone much worse. And nobody’s parents can tell you this one isn’t real.

On July 22, right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik orchestrated a dual attack on Norway. Behring Breivik is believed to have been responsible for a car bomb detonated outside of a government building in Norway’s capital city, Oslo. The explosion killed seven people.

Following the bombing, Behring Breivik commuted to Utoya island, where a youth summer camp geared toward rearing tomorrow’s political leaders was in session. Dressed as a policeman, Behring Breivik gathered attendees under the guise of delivering information regarding the bombing.

In fact, what Behring Breivik delivered was gunfire. He opened fire on the nearby youth. As the teens and young adults attempted to flee, he continued to shoot. Young people were shot as they scurried up hills, hid in bushes and swam in the water.

The shooting spree lasted over an hour—over an hour of murder and blood shed, spurred by the goal of dismantling a future government Behring Breivik deemed overly-infused with Islamic ideals.

Recent reports have the total death toll of the dual attacks at 76. Seventy-six people. Dead.

Once detained, Behring Breivik confessed to the shootings and indicated the existence of other active cells within his terror organization. From his boastings, there is speculation that Behring Breivik did not act alone and that similar massacres are plotted on the horizon.

When you tuck your child in at night and she tells you she is afraid that the boogie man or the Joker will get her, you already know what to do. You can comfort her the way your parents comforted you, reassuring her that those people, those things, aren’t real.

But what do you do when she tells you she is afraid of Behring Breivik and his extremist allies? What can you tell her to calm her fears and make her feel safe?

Really, what can you tell yourself?

These questions aren’t easy ones to answer. They’re the same sort we asked in wake of other well-publicized tragedies, such as the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Columbine shootings and the Natalee Holloway disappearance (to name but a few).

Fears of Freddy and the undead are fears of the supernatural. Fears stemming from the aforementioned tragedies are very real fears of the natural.

Attending high school, going to an enrichment camp, taking a vacation, and visiting a national landmark or government hub are natural, normal parts of every-day living. They are things that are meant to improve our quality of life. And, sadly, they are things which now cause anxiety and fear.

But these fears are fears that we cannot quell. We cannot tell our children that Behring Breivik or al Qaida does not exist. We can’t ignore the situation or shelter our children from the outside world. We can’t keep them out of school or camp or avoid national landmarks or vacation spots.

What we can do is explain tragedy and hope to our children and instill in them a vision encouraged by the international campaign against terrorism and crime. Together, with our children, we can mourn the loss of lives from these, and many other, tragic events and pay tribute to the fallen youth of Norway.

We can hold our kids’ hands and ask them to keep their fingers crossed and pray that something like this doesn’t happen again. It’s not a solution, but it’s the best we can do to deal with an incredibly unfortunate reality.

Roger August 01, 2011 at 10:41 AM
"... ask them to keep their fingers crossed and pray that something like this doesn’t happen again." I disagree. This action represents the widest of gaps between the source of control in the situation. How can we expect a child to process these two entirely different viewpoints at the same time?
Sarah Beth Martin August 01, 2011 at 01:19 PM
Hi Roger - Thanks for your comment. In suggesting that we hold our children's hands and ask them to pray, I am suggesting that we comfort our kids and give them hope for a better tomorrow. When it comes to control, what further control can parents exert? We can't keep them out of school or camp. That's giving in to terrorism and unnecessarily sheltering them from normal life. And, what active control can KIDS have in this type of situation? We already teach them not to talk to strangers or not to freely go into potentially dangerous arenas. This is the type of control we can teach a child. There is nothing we can teach a child to help him more actively combat terrorism. And, if we attempt to equip him this way, we run the risk of creating a young breed of vigilantes. Instead, I think explaining what terrorism is and how governments and authorities try to prevent and control it is in order. We need not make that discussion dark and dismal. We must give our kids hope and make them think of, dream of, and pray for a safer world. This way, we'll raise future adults who have an optimistic vision. As adults - as tomorrow's politicians, writers, police officers, and teachers - they can more actively try to remedy the situation. But the seed for tomorrow's action must be planted today.
Roger August 02, 2011 at 10:55 AM
Sarah, you have missed the point of my post. In your response you left out the "crossed fingers," which I specifically addressed. How can you reconcile these two positions? I wholeheartedly agree about giving our children hope. But, we do them a great disservice by implanting ideas with false hope. When those false hopes are unfulfilled, the effects are frustrating and disappointment. We are serving our children, and ourselves, much better in learning to deal with reality, rather than working toward a hope that is without substance. The discouragement associated with the lack of substance that is eventually found out has negative outcomes. These ideas are universal, not related specifically to the Norway incident, or any other incident. What worldview provides for the compatibility between "crossed fingers" and prayer? What is the foundation of such a worldview? If we are unable to reconcile these two positions as adults, how can we expect our children to handle them sooner or later? Not only do we deceive ourselves, but we pass the deception to our children.
Roger August 15, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Sarah, there are open questions here. We know you are still on Patch because you have posted other pieces recently. Looking forward to your answers. Thank you.

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