The cable industry rallied to provide information to parents and teachers who wanted to help children deal with last week's terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Cable in the Classroom featured pertinent online links for educators at ciconline.org. By 12:19 p.m. EST last Tuesday, CNNFYI.com posted the first lesson plan for middle school and high-school aged students, Turner Learning spokeswoman Lesley Carlson said.
"We knew that kids would want to be watching this in class, so we wanted to give teachers guidelines," Carlson said.
CIC is a nonprofit trade association that aggregates cable television and online content for use in educators' lesson plans. Executive director and former teacher Peggy O'Brien said she sent information on the CNN online content via electronic mail to some of her teacher friends. A teacher returned her message with thanks, adding, "I can use all the help I can get."
O'Brien said there are no hard and fast rules about which age groups should watch television coverage of the horrific event.
"A lot of kids are too young to process this kind of stuff," she said — especially those who live in a world of video games.
Yet it's important that even young children be told the truth according to the level that they can understand and handle it, O'Brien said. Teachers respect the fact that parents are the primary communicators with children, especially in the younger grades, she added.
Because experts advise against exposing young children to graphic coverage, some sites offered tips for parents on how to address the inevitable questions that would arise.
At discoveryhealth.com, Discovery Health Channel gave tips on how to speak to children about death. At Comcast Corp.'s online educational site, comcastschoolyard.com, adults were encouraged to make an appointment to donate blood. Families also found tips on how to help children deal with traumatic events.
While much of the content provided by the industry has a nationwide spin to it, Cablevision Systems Corp. is planning to offer locally-tailored information for schools because the tragedy hit much closer to home.
Last week, Cablevision was talking with schools in its metropolitan New York service territory to determine which types of information would be most helpful to them. The cable operator was planning to place that information on its powertolearn.com Web site, said spokeswoman Heather Robinson. Possible features would include a question-and-answer session with a local counselor, and information on how students can help get involved to help with the recovery process.
"A lot of students in our schools lost parents," Robinson said. "We have to figure out what to do for our schools that were directly affected by this."
WHAT TO SAY TO KIDS
In talking with children, O'Brien said, "you have to reaffirm that this is a scary thing — it's scary for all of us." Teachers and parents should reinforce the fact that much can be done to combat future acts of terrorism, and that such steps are being taken.
What's harder for parents, O'Brien noted, is trying to be honest when answering the question, "Can something like this happen again?"
Teachers and parents can help children realize that families will do things they've done in the past, such as fly to visit relatives, even though it now seems unfathomable.
Though young children often express their concerns fairly openly, middle-school- and high-school-aged students have a tendency to act unphased in an attempt to appear cool, she said.
"It can be tougher to get older kids to talk about it," she said.
The online resources that cable sites provide are a wonderful way to allow older children to express their feelings, O'Brien said.
With kids of high school age, it's unrealistic to try to shield them by turning off the television in the classroom altogether, O'Brien contends.
"What are they going to do, talk about gerunds?"
Nickelodeon last week produced a public affairs program scheduled to air Sunday night [Sept. 16]. Nick News: Kids, Terrorism and the American Spirit
was created as a starting point to let children and their parents discuss their fears about what happened over the past week, spokesman David Bittler said. The show would run without the graphic images that were splashed elsewhere in the media.
"We'll focus on the positive," Bittler said, such as the heroism of the police, firefighters and volunteer rescue teams. The Nick News
episode has a Cable in the Classroom component with lesson plans available online.
CNN Newsroom offers educators a 30-minute news program each week that can be taped and brought into classrooms. The Hispanic population special that had been planned for this week was preempted by coverage of the terrorist attack, and will run next week.
In addition to a rundown of the sequence of events from last week's tragedy and a report on how the world has been impacted by terrorism over the past 10 years, this week's coverage will include a visit with college-aged students at a blood donation center. There are also interviews with children across the country on their reactions to the crisis.
The video will also feature a town hall meeting hosted by former President Jimmy Carter at Atlanta's Emory University last Thursday.
Student reporters around the country typically make strong contributions to CNN Newsroom. About one dozen schools have volunteered to submit stories for this week's report, Carlson said. But because Federal Express Corp. service was disrupted by the temporary ban on air travel, it may be hard to get some of the tapes right away, she added. Tapes that come in late will be used in subsequent coverage.