In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., parents and teachers struggled with some hard questions: When is it appropriate to talk to kids about the kind of merciless violence that could strike anyone at any time? And after we've decided on "when," how?
The most difficult part, many educators concur, is striking the balance between helping children understand what has happened while not making them too frightened. This latter task is particularly challenging, because, after all, terrorism is scary for everyone - not just kids.
But the situation is further complicated when a tragedy draws negative attention to one's own community. Maryland resident Irfan Murtuza wrote in a letter to the editor in The Washington Post in November: "As a Muslim parent, I confront an additional challenge in talking to my children about the 'Islamic State': explaining that it does not speak for Muslims in the midst of raised voices insisting otherwise."
The National Council on American-Islamic Relations this week released guidelines to help those confronting this dilemma. In "A Muslim parent's guide to talking to children about acts of violent extremism," CAIR urges parents to "avoid statements like, 'They think we are all terrorists,' or, 'I am moving out of America,'" lest kids take the remarks as fact.
"Evaluate your own use of media," says the guide, which was written by clinical psychiatrist Aliya Saeed. "Are you watching the news and sometimes yelling at the TV when a politician makes an outlandish comment about Muslims? Limit your own consumption of the news and social media if it is affecting you negatively."
The guide further directs parents to familiarize themselves with the facts surrounding past incidences of Islamist extremism in the United States, citing statistics on the small percentage of terrorist events and mass shootings perpetrated by Muslim Americans.
"Do not repeat conspiracy theories," reads one directive. "Your children will find those confusing."
As worries over Islamophobia have grown in the Muslim American community, bullying has become a central concern. Fifty-five percent of Muslim students who responded to a 2015 CAIR survey in California reported being bullied because of their religion.
In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Asma T. Uddin and Uzma Mariam Ahmed recounted the experience of one Muslim couple in Los Angeles who kept their 5- and 6-year-old daughters home from their private Islamic school for a couple days after the San Bernardino shooting because they felt uneasy about the threats of violence - possibly a hoax - that had been emailed to city school board members.
CAIR's guide encourages the parents of elementary-age children to ensure that their kids feel safe and are informing them of any hate incidents.
With regard to teenagers, however, CAIR takes a different perspective, noting: "A teenager who is despondent about being berated and being called a terrorist by other teens may find himself or herself quite welcome in an online forum that focuses on the grievances of young Muslims in America and glamorizes violent acts.
"Try to encourage positive adult influences in the teen's life, but be aware of what messages they are getting from these adults," the guide says. "Make time for dinner table discussions about Islamic doctrine that prohibits terrorism, and the fallacy of the extremists' narrative."