Friday’s tragic attack in Paris undoubtedly left many military families with travel plans or orders to move abroad feeling scared and uncertain. How do you keep your kids safe in an unsafe world? How do you limit your exposure to dangerous places without staying in your home for the duration of your overseas tour? There is no perfect advice for this, but after speaking with several OCONUS military families, a few points are clear.
Be aware: Awareness is key. Be aware of where you are and what’s around you. Be aware of the image you project. Service members are trained to do this; ten year-olds are not. OPSEC and PERSEC remain important. Just like when you are stateside, teach your children not to discuss their parent’s upcoming training, deployments, or other military events in public.
Assimilate: Teach your children location-appropriate behaviors for public transportation, dining in a café, shopping, and even playing. What is acceptable behavior for children in the States may not be in your host country. Respect the culture of the local community enough to assimilate; not to lose your identity as an American, but to help maintain your family’s personal security and create a more culturally rich experience.
Use Wisdom in Your Movements: Depending on your location, your base will have specific regulations for travel. Some locations will be off-limits, others will require higher-level approval, or leave travel will be outright cancelled. Travel suggestions and restrictions are based on careful risk analysis. Do not treat them lightly. However, unless you are stationed in a high-risk area, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should suspend all travel.
Choose your destinations carefully. Our world is the best classroom for our military children. As many OCONUS military spouses have mentioned, as horrific as the Paris attacks are (and the attacks in London and Madrid in the past), it will not discourage them from travel and, literally, giving their children the world, both good and bad.
Be Age-Appropriate: Protecting your military kids isn’t just about keeping them physically safe. Based on their age and their level of maturity, decide what and how much information to share. Be mindful of what is on your television or computer screen when your kids are around. Be aware that they will hear about these events at school on Monday.
Military kids already know that their parents fight “the bad guys.” They will have questions about how the Paris attacks will affect their parent in uniform. Military kids who have travelled to Paris may feel particularly vulnerable and scared knowing a place they visited and enjoyed was a scene of tragedy. Know how much to share with your children and give them truthful answers to their questions. And let them know that a huge community is committed to making their world safer than it was on November 13th.
Please share your tips for helping to keep children safe while traveling or living overseas.