Questions from kids on the Paris attacks
How French newspapers for kids answered questions about the Paris attacks
You might have seen this heartwarming video, that's been shared millions of times online this week. In it, 6 year-old Brandon Le is reassured by his father Angel, at Place de la République in Paris, where people were laying flowers and lighting candles to honor the 129 victims killed in last Friday's attacks.
This week three French newspapers took a different approach. Aimed at kids aged 7 to 17, the papers answered questions kids have about ISIS and the Paris attacks. Questions ranged from "Why do they hate things like rock 'n' roll enough to kill people?" to "Will there be another attack?" We talk to François Dufour, editor-in-chief of Le Petit Quotidien and two other French dailies for kids.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Brent Bambury: I want to start with your reaction to that video that we played of the father and son at Place de la Republique. It's been shared millions of times. How do you think you would have responded to that child who said "But the flowers do nothing"?
François Dufour: It's a good question. Well, it's a sign of the kids not being adults. So my answer is that the flowers do not protect against the terrorists, but the flowers are good to remember the victims of the terrorists. But I think it's a wonderful piece to show that the kids live in the same world as the adults. You cannot send them to planet Mars. And you can't imagine that because they are kids they live in a bubble, a different world than the adult world. And it's interesting for adults to realize that kids use a kids' language and you have to answer with a kids' language to make sure you are understood.
BB: It also is evidence of the wisdom that children actually have, I think, in so many ways. And I want to talk about the wisdom that you've heard in the questions that you've received from children. What is the most common question you heard?
FD: Well the number one question is 'why.' But then, I really liked one child asking why don't the terrorists enjoy rock and roll. And also how can gentle little babies become bad adults. Bad and mean adults — terrorists. It looks like a childish question, even the rock and roll question, but it's the heart of the problem.
BB: So how did you answer the rock 'n' roll question?
FD: Well, explaining why those attackers, those terrorists say that they don't like rock and roll in the text where they claim the attack. They explain that they didn't like people to go to concerts.
BB: And what about this other question, I think it's a very philosophical question, that everyone is born innocent. That as a child, as a baby, you don't have the temptation to kill. How did you explain that?
FD: To tell the truth, we didn't answer it yet. Because we wanted to make sure that we would be able to explain the real lives of the real assassins, the real terrorists. And we still don't know exactly who they are and how they became that.
BB: I want to share with my listeners a question that you received from a young girl. She looks to me to be about 10 years old. Her name is Maëlys, and first she asks "Why did the attackers do this?" and then she wants to know if the attackers were friends with the people who carried out the Charlie Hebdo attacks. What does that tell you that she's connecting those two events?
FD: Well first, the answer is we don't know if they were friends. But they share the same ideas. What does it tell? It tells that the kids were shocked by the two events, and they didn't forget the Charlie Hebdo killings, even though it was almost a year ago. And even though she's only 10 — so she was nine at the time. But some of the kids simply asked if the terrorists are going to come back. That's the most difficult question we had to answer. And actually the exact question is, "Is it dangerous to go to school?" As a journalist, I can't tell them it's not dangerous to go to school. Because if I would have said that in January with Charlie [Hebdo] I would be in trouble today. I would have lied, and I'm a journalist, I'm not supposed to lie. Even though I'm talking to children, we should not, as I say, paint-in-pink reality — give a light version of reality because I'm talking to kids. So in other words, I'm a journalist, I'm here to explain. I'm not here to reassure.
BB: Did you notice a difference in how children reacted to the Friday attacks compared to their reactions to the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January?
FD: The big surprise in January was how can you kill someone simply doing a drawing? And in this case today, the big, big surprise has been, how can French people kill other French people? This is the main difference.
BB: You've mentioned that you're a journalist and you have a duty to tell the truth, but is there a line that you must draw when it comes to what you will show and tell children?
FD: To make a long answer short, no. Of course you don't need to focus on blood and terrible images. But my answer would be no. Because you cannot twist reality to make it look lighter.
BB: What are your guiding principles then in answering the questions?
FD: The most important is to be simple, short, and make sure that the child understands your answer. Because in such a case, you are here to explain. But it's normal if a shocking reality is shocking also for a child, as it is for an adult.
BB: Do you think that there are children who are too sensitive to be exposed to the disturbing truth about the attack?
FD: Maybe at four or five or six years old, but as soon as they go to school, they are in the playground, they talk to others. And they live in a family where there is a radio, there is a TV on, the internet is open. And the parents are talking to each other. So I don't think it is realistic. It's like when the grandfather or grandmother or a child dies, you are not going to say that the person didn't die.
BB: Have you received any questions from Muslim children who are worried about the way that perhaps people are talking about them or their community in the wake of the attacks?
FD: Well actually that's our next issue. We have interviewed Muslim kids and teens all day. And we're going to do a special issue next week. I know that some of the reactions are that they don't want to call the terrorists or jihadists — they don't want to call them Muslims. And they are shocked that those guys are using the same values to kill.
BB: In hearing from all of the children that have addressed you so far, what could we as adults learn from the way that they ask questions about what is happening?
FD: Keep it simple. Direct. Straightforward. There is no bad question. And there is no bad, simple, naive question. Every question is good, and the adults have to answer all the questions, and they have to answer them very simply, but very precisely.
BB: François Dufour, thank you very much for talking to us.
FD: Thank you.