Osama bin Laden Death Photos: How to Explain to Your Child

Experts offer parenting advice on images of Osama Bin Laden's death.

ByABC News
May 3, 2011, 5:21 PM

May 3, 2011— -- Abigail Carter, whose husband Arron was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11, said she and her two children did not need news of Osama bin Laden's death to feel closure, but wonder why the White House has not yet released photos or videos.

"I was sort of expecting them to be out there," said Carter.

While the images may initially shock many adults, child psychiatrists and psychologists say the images will resonate with younger children and adolescents much longer.

Carter shielded her two children, Carter, now 11, and Olivia, now 15, from images of 9/11 immediately after their father's death. But a couple of years later, Carter saw images in Time magazine.

"I tried to be as honest with them as I could," Carter said.

Although Carter said she expects that her children -- now inevitably more tapped into the Internet -- will see images of bin Laden if they are released, she won't go to her children with the photos and try to explain. She'll wait until they come to her, she said.

"I probably wouldn't be able to stop her from seeing them," said Carter. "Pictures like that are going to be all over Facebook and hard to avoid."

In fact, parents of younger children shouldn't deliberately show their child any potentially disturbing photos, even if they are circulating, said George Scarlett, assistant professor of psychology at Tufts University School of Medicine.

"There really is no reason why a child should be shown Osama bin Laden's corpse," said Scarlett. "But if it happens, then a parent, interpreting what the visual means, will help."

Scarlett said parents should use simple words to describe the images. And more importantly, he says, parents should continually reassure their child not to be scared.

"No need to talk about the possibility of another attack or anything else that suggests that adult caregivers really aren't in control," said Scarlett.

Previous studies suggest children who watch disturbing images -- even fictional horror movies -- are more likely to develop anxiety, repeated thoughts, and nightmares.

"Children do not often know how to contextualize what they saw and may feel that they may be at personal risk, but in reality they're not in danger," said Dr. Cynthia Pfeffer, psychiatrist and director of the childhood bereavement program at New York- Presbyterian Hospital.

Instead of showing or allowing their children to see images, Pfeffer suggested speaking to children calmly and directly.

But if children aren't interested in talking about it, then don't push it, says Jay Reeve, psychologist at the Bond-Apalachee Wellness Integration Center in Merritt Island, Fla.

"If a child shows little interest, there should be no reason to engage heavily with them," said Reeve. "If they want to discuss it, then parents should be guided by their own views on war and the use of force."