Terrifying images of Mumbai terror attack could impact children: experts

November 29th, 2008 - 5:15 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 29 (IANS) The death dance in India’s commercial hub is finally over. But the terrifying images - flames leaping out of the windows of a hotel, sounds of loud explosions and gunfire, people ducking in fear as grenades burst - flashing on television for over 59 hours, have made psychiatrists fear the impact on children.Most parents were watching the drama unfolding of the Mumbai terror attack live on television since Wednesday night, and their children avidly watched it too - picking up new idioms and words.

Though many viewers said their children had become inured to watching pictures of bomb blasts and of injured being carried to hospitals, the images of the Mumbai terror attack and the raging gunbattles between the terrorists and commandos were something new.

The image of a grenade being thrown from a window of the Taj Mahal hotel at a group of journalists, the body of terrorist falling out from a window of the Taj hotel, commandos slithering down a rope from a chopper as they are dropped on to a terrace, or a loud explosion as commandos explode a hole in the wall of a building - all shown live - made for compulsive watching.

One worried father is Partha Guha.

“The TV has been on from early morning till late night at my place since Thursday. So my daughter, who is two years and four months old, asked me on hearing the gunfire and explosions: “Papa, those are balloons exploding aren’t they?”

Seeing another visual on TV, she commented, “That man looks so scared”, Guha told IANS.

“This morning, she pointed to a body on television and told our maid, ‘Didi, look, he is dead.’ I am quite sure she can’t know what dead means, but she said it!”

“The only time I remember talking about death to her is while explaining that in Jungle Book video.”

Vinita Jha, a psychologist at UMKAL Healthcare in Gurgaon, said she had a difficult time explaining the situation to her children, aged eight and six.

“We returned to India last year from the UK. And since then there has been one terror attack after another, and this one was the most terrifying.

“Obviously, children get anxious. I have told them that this is the new kind of challenges we would face in life,” she said.

She said the “terror trauma” would have a lasting effect on children, depending on their age, their background and how their parents explain the situation to them.

“Small children are of an impressionable age and it is difficult to explain matters to them. So we have to be careful what we allow them to view. But to older children, we should explain that the system is in place and how the army has come to save the hostages,” she added.

She said older children too could get scared or worried as the images leave a lasting impression on them.

“Parents and teachers should talk to the child and explain to them. Many children who are vulnerable could have nightmares and find it difficult to sleep,” Jha added.

M.S. Bhatia, professor and head of department of psychiatry at the Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital, said these pictures could disturb a child who was already facing emotional problems.

“Such children can become more scared and get paranoid about death. Also, they might get afraid that something might happen to their parents if they stay in a hotel. They might get scary dreams and suffer from loss of appetite or behavioural changes. Parents should immediately address their concerns,” he added.

But psychiatrist Samir Parikh believes that children should be shown reality.

“Reality needs to be shown. Everybody learns from what is happening. It is for parents to channelise and navigate them to what is happening. Parents have to act as filters.

“I don’t think that not showing them (images) would serve the purpose. We have to make them feel secure. But they should also know the reality of life,” he added.

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