What To Say To A Child When Terror Attacks Become Routine

A developmental psychologist in Turkey offers some answers.

After the terrorist attack on Istanbul's Ataturk Airport
After the terrorist attack on Istanbul's Ataturk Airport
Melis Alphan

ISTANBUL â€" In the past year, more than 10 terrorist attacks in Turkey claimed the lives of at least 300 people.

Terror, sorrow and trauma have now spread to the big cities. We are psychologically damaged by the attacks in central Ankara and Istanbul â€" two cities we had believed to be well protected. Meanwhile, attacks have spread in frequency around Europe in the past two weeks.

We are worried and scared. But never mind us. What about children? How are we going to protect children who have to live with violence as part of their daily lives and keep them from becoming psychologically damaged adults?

Professor Dr. Bilge Selcuk, director of the child and family studies laboratory at Koc University’s department of psychology, says that children do not fully comprehend events they hear about from their parent’s conversations, and everything that is not completely understood increases a feeling of anxiety: "Since children’s ability for self-control is not yet fully developed, their feelings of anxiety and fear are increased and it is harder for them to deal with these emotions."

In cities where there is a bomb attack almost every month, parents talk about staying at home, avoiding the metro and other crowded places and paying attention to people who look suspicious. They caution their children to “be careful” and to keep their eyes open.

Selcuk recommends abstaining from offering such advise.

"You are informing the child that there are threats in an environment that is impossible for him to control and you’re saying, ‘Be careful, protect yourself.’ This increases the level of anxiety and stress for children. And long-term stress and anxiety can damage both physical and mental health. They can develop learning, sleeping and eating disorders," she says.

Moreover, this type of advise encourages children to constantly search for threats. They start examining people around them, their physical attributes, their clothes and their behavior. This constant sense of threat breeds feelings of insecurity and generates discrimination in society. People start seeing anyone who is different from them as a potential threat and feel hostile to those who are not one of them.

"If it were possible to detect terrorists from their appearance, intelligence agents would not have any difficulty finding them," Selcuk says. "Giving children and teenagers a task that even the best security forces cannot accomplish damages their health. It also causes societal discrimination, marginalization and animosity. When people who live together start seeing each other as potential threats, violence becomes widespread in society."

So what should we do?

Selcuk says it’s important to avoid emotionally loaded or discriminating language that increases anxiety. She says that children should stay informed with simple language which doesn’t hold the child responsible for security and takes the weight off their shoulders.

"We need to teach our children how to unite as a community without discriminating against anyone and to act in solidarity. Sometimes politics benefits from singling out differences, polarization and sharpening divides. We, ordinary citizens, are not part of this type of politics. We should stick to basic human values independent of any political stance, recognize the disadvantaged and heed to a life of peace," says Selcuk.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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