The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kids pop safety question

Parents and teachers in Calcutta are having difficulty teaching young children to be alert to terror without becoming obsessed with it.

“Schools have intensified security and they are seeing people being frisked at malls for the first time. They are asking to be reassured repeatedly that they are safe,” said psychologist Salony Priya, who works with students at The Heritage School.

After a hoax terror mail on June 29 put the city on high alert, some parents cautioned their children about hidden dangers.

Class III student Riona Chakrabarti, who till the other day would only watch Scooby-Doo on Cartoon Network and Hannah Montana on Disney Channel, is now making her mother worried by enquiring almost every day whether any news channel has flashed a bomb alert.

“Riona had asked on the night when the email was sent to the media if it was all right to go to school. The next morning, she brought a newspaper to me and, pointing to the picture of a victim in the Ahmedabad blasts, asked who was responsible for it,” her mother said.

Poushali Mittal’s six-year-old daughter Vandita is just as inquisitive about the terror alert in the city. “My daughter has been asking questions, but she is too young to understand what is happening. I tell her that these things are done by bad people. I prefer to skirt the issue.”

But schools are unable to gloss over security concerns and children are noticing the changes. Calcutta Girls’ High School keeps two of its three gates shut and even parents are not allowed to go near the children without showing identity cards.

“The drivers of our school buses and their helpers would earlier enter the school freely. But they are now frisked before being allowed to enter,” said Seema Sapru, the principal of The Heritage School.

Police have distributed pamphlets containing security dos and don’ts among students of classes IX-XII in some schools. But younger students are confused about the changed environment.

“Most children in Classes I and II are asking their teachers why I had asked them not to talk to strangers and what they were supposed to do if someone even asked them their names,” said Keya Sinha, the principal of Vivekananda Mission School.

Some institutions like Modern High School are trying to keep children from discussing the subject. “There is already too much of it,” said principal Devi Kar.

Paranoid parents are adding to the problem. Kar has received letters and phone calls from parents requesting that their wards be allowed to stay at home for some time.

Priya said children of working parents were more likely to be insecure in this environment. “For instance, they could worry about what would happen to them if nobody came to pick them up from school.”


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