Online threats to military families? I confess I ignored the recent news story about how extremists urged “lone wolves” in the United States to find military families online and kill them.
I’m a grown-up. I try only to worry only about the things that are statistically likely to kill me -- like my heinous driving habits and my forbidden Big Mac love.
Then a 10-year-old came up to me at an event and changed my mind. “I heard ISIS is coming to (my home state) to kill military families,” he told me. “I’m afraid they will kill my mom.”
This kid was already worried about his deployed dad. He had real fear in his eyes, in his face, in his hands, in his voice. He was killing me. Right that second.Because we forget that part of our military community. We forget that military families include more than a service member and a partner and kiddies too little to worry about anything more important that where they left their pacifier.
We forget that grade school kids and teens are collecting information from sources other than mom or dad every minute of every day.
Even our younger kids are living online. They aren’t just watching My Little Pony videos on You Tube or SnapChatting their girlfriends. They are paying attention to anything that comes across their screen that might matter to them -- which apparently includes the Middle East.
I wonder if we ignore too much the waging of war online and its effect on our own young people? Just this week the New York Times reported on how skillful and sophisticated ISIS has been using social media to spread propaganda. They also reported how the United States has responded in kind with the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication. I don't think they are targeting kids as young as 10. Yet.
When I was a kid, my mom protected us from all that. She could protect us from that. She didn’t watch the news in front of us. We only read the comics and Dear Abby in the newspaper. Vietnam was something that happened in my mother’s bedroom on the 11 o’clock news.
When my own kids were younger, I could keep the news away from them, too. They were afraid when their dad deployed on 9/11. They were afraid later when we were stocking up on duct tape and plastic gloves and batteries in case of Anthrax attacks.
But this? We live in such a visual world. It isn’t just the iPads our kids can use from the stroller. Pictures are everywhere. The photo of the journalist kneeling in front of a black hooded figure was on screens in airports, in restaurants, at the 7/Eleven. The story about a beheading classified as “workplace violence” filtered through every screen in the house. Our military kids are soaking in knowledge of war and violence. How do we protect them from that?
I don't know. I can’t get that 10-year-old and his fear for his mother out of my mind. I asked what his parents had said. They sounded like really good parents. The kind that hug you and reassure you and tell you not to worry.
“But it is not going away. That feeling is not going away,” he said.
No, it isn’t, Kid. No, it isn't.
Honestly, I am planning for this news story about online threats to military families to turn into nothing. Like nuclear attack drills during the Cold War. Like the stickers they wanted us to scrape off our cars to avoid car bombs during the Gulf War. Like the nightmares of every OPSEC brief during OEF and OIF. Like Anthrax.
I’m a grown-up. I try only to worry about the things most likely to happen. So forgive me if I am worried -- worried about you and military kids like you and the world in which you grow up immersed.
Photos courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.