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Coping With Evil

Coping With EvilBuilt-in safeguards help children deal with fears from evil images -- including recent depictions of Osama bin Laden -- a Tufts expert told ABC News.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.14.01] Over the last three months, the media has been saturated with powerful imagery and commentary about how much evil resides in the world. As the focus on Osama bin Laden and his campaign of terrorism increases, many parents are wondering how to help their children cope with the nation's new fears. But a Tufts expert says kids may be better equipped to handle it than we think.

"Children have built in safeguards in the way they think, safeguards that help them to feel secure," Tufts' George Scarlett -- a professor of child development -- told ABC News.

According to the Tufts expert, children relate to "evil" differently, depending on their age.

"For young children (preschoolers), evil comes in fantastic forms -- witches, eagles swooping into bedrooms and the like," Scarlett told ABC News. "However fantastic bin Laden may appear to us, he's no match for a young child's images of evil."

Just being present is often enough.

"About all we can do for the very young is tuck them in with a gentle kiss and make them know that we are nearby," he said. "They, then, will feel safe enough."

As children grow older, however, they begin to associate "evil" more and more with human forms.

While a figure like bin Laden could be quite powerful to an older child, Scarlett says they still believe their parents will be able to protect them.

"Most children are true believers that the good guys always win in the end and that parents and God can and will keep the bad guys away," Scarlett told ABC News. "Furthermore, most children believe that it is easy to spot evil, that even if an evil person comes near, he or she will be spotted and, having been spotted, will be dealt with."

If parents try too hard to explain bin Laden, for example, they may do more harm than good.

"We do them a disservice to separate them from their illusions," he said. "No need to interpret bin Laden -- he's a bad guy on TV on the other side of the world. We have spotted him and we are in control."

Sometimes the illusion of safety is the most important thing to protect.

"We must match our interpretations of bin Laden to what evil means to a child, not to what it means to us," Scarlett explained. "We must uphold a child's right to feel safe even when no one is truly safe."

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