Talking to your kids about terrorism

Now it is our turn to talk to our kids about terrorism.

I had hoped we would never have to face it, but here it is, and luckily we weren’t in the vicinity when it happened and it hasn’t been as tough to talk about it as I feared.

Because the thing is – I don’t feel scared. Not more than usual, at least, because being a woman (and one that has been harassed many times, and physically assaulted twice) that is sort of the default.  A lone 18-year old kid running around with a knife is not too unusual for Finland, and him targeting women – that too is far too common in our country. And almost everywhere in the world in fact, because misogyny exists everywhere. Men who hate women exist everywhere.

I always thought I would be terrified when I had to talk to my kids about terror, but then I always thought an attack would more probably happen in Copenhagen where we lived, or in any big city we have visited. Not in little Turku, which is the closest thing to a big city that we have in our corner of Finland, and far from a huge metropolis.

The kid who did it was apparently part of a violent gang that roams the streets of Turku at night. Even that is not that uncommon. When I lived in Turku while studying at Åbo Akademi University, all us girls knew not to go certain places at certain times of the day/night. I was always on the lookout for any male gang, or any male that looked to be either violent or a bit odd. Sometimes just a glance from me has set someone off (male people yelling at me, for example), so I try not to take any chances because young defenseless women are apparently an  invitation to violence for some. At least time takes care of some of those aspects… But even now that I am over forty and no longer young and pretty, I am constantly aware of male persons in my vicinity if I am alone by myself or with the kids.

”Did you notice the guy that rode the elevator with us?” I asked Niklas.

He had no idea who I was talking about.

”Or what about the guy smoking the cigarette when we came from the Taco place?”

No, Niklas hadn’t noticed that guy either.

”Or the guy with the funny beard where we parked the car”.

Well, that guy Niklas had noticed, but only because I remarked on his beard. We all thought he was scary looking.

But all the other ones – I am the one who notices them. Niklas is the one with privilege who walks through life as a big white male who nobody messes with. Who nobody tries to touch inappropriately. Who doesn’t have to have an exit planned when he walks through a dark street or a restaurant at night. Who nobody dares do anything untoward or violent against, because who knows what he would do to them?  I am, or used to be, a free for all – just get all your hate against pretty girls out there.

So no, I don’t become more scared by a lone kid stabbing people on the square of our nearby city.

I am already scared because of all the friends and acquaintances I’ve had over the years who have been stabbed (by knife or axe), molested, harassed, raped. By men. By violent men. Because there are so many of them all over the world.

They are made violent by wars, like the ones we have had in Finland that have scarred many generations.

They are made violent by not having an outlet for their feelings. Not getting to express their feelings. By having to have ”sisu” or whatever their country’s equivalence of being macho is. Of ”being a man”.

They are made violent by society not focusing on mental health issues. And then they get radicalized in their own particular way.

If you are a Muslim – then maybe you become a radical islamist. If you are a white Christian – well, we all saw what happened in Charlottesville just the other day, or in Norway six years ago. If you don’t adhere to any particular ideology, but are a sort of misfit – school shootings might be your option.

That is why I think the best thing anyone can do when something like this happens, or even better – before this happens, is talk.

Talk to your kids about anything. Talk about feelings. Let boys and girls be whatever they want to be and listen to them.  Don’t mind so much what other people think – that is conforming to society, and that is not always a good thing for your mental health. Be who you are, not who other people want you to be.

I don’t tell my kids how afraid I am all the time, because they don’t need to know that, but I can show them that a terror attack in our neighbor city hasn’t made me more afraid. Turku is the same place as always, and as safe as always, because this was a lone person running around with knives who had mental issues that he took out on the world.

We have also talked a lot about how rumors get started when something big happens. The kids unfortunately were already aware of a bit of this  because of the clown scare that happened a while ago (I think the phenomenon came from the US, but it spread to our little corner in the archipelago), so this was a great time to talk about how scared the kids were then and that most of the things they heard were just rumors.

We also talk about how eyewitnesses can get things wrong, even when they witness the same thing at the same time. How your mind can play tricks on you, and make you see or hear things that aren’t there.

We also tell the kids that they can talk to us any time they want. They were really scared yesterday when it happened, because this is really close to home for us and so many people we know go to school or work near where it happened. But now after visiting the square and talking about it they feel calmer.  And I feel as if we did alright as parents.

The big difficulty will be when school start again on Monday, but hopefully the teachers and assistants will be able to calm down the kids at school. Which they have done wonderfully in the past, by talking about difficult issues and not putting a lid on it. Just as we do in our family.


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  1. Carolina Andersson says:

    Tog friheten att dela dina kloka ord på min fb-sida.

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