Friday, September 4, 2015         


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World events open door for discussion with kids

By Ira Zunin


Libya threatens to become a failed state regardless of how long Moammar Ga­dhafi remains in power. Western allies are in disarray about their objectives. The no-fly resolution has been used to justify attacks not only on anti-aircraft weapons, but also tanks, ground troops and Ga­dha­fi's compound. One wonders whether Yemen will crack next.

Egypt still hangs in the balance. Despite successful preliminary elections, sweet optimism after the resignation of Hosni Muba­rak could turn to sour grapes. Saudi Arabia has sent troops to Bahrain, revealing that the princes could not appease their restive Shiite population with handouts. This increases the risk of a regional Sunni-Shiite confrontation that could include Iran. Syria saw brutal crackdowns on protestors this week. Hamas broke a two-year hiatus of major aggression by firing a large number of missiles deep into Israel, which in response threatened "great force."

Japan's triple disaster continues to tap the physical and emotional resources of its people. Parents have just been told to keep their babies away from "mildly irradiated" Tokyo tap water, and the U.S. has begun to clamp down on imports of Japa­nese foodstuffs.

The people of Hawaii continue to be deeply affected. Japa­nese tourist volume has taken a dive. In no mood to celebrate, they have canceled scheduled weddings and vacations. We are told that the amount of nuclear fallout in Hawaii is minuscule, but we still wonder whether there is full disclosure.

When deluged with tragic news, many respond by shutting down. This week I spoke to a friend, a plastic surgeon, who has traveled the world treating cleft palates in the poorest war-torn countries. "It's too much," he said. "I had to turn it off." At some point we hit a breaking point. If we don't turn off the news, we turn off inside.

Studies have shown that children regularly subjected to the full news cycle at home can become desensitized to violence and disconnected to the suffering of others. They also more easily become perpetrators.

In contrast to those who turn away from news of tragedy, others anxiously obsess, becoming overwhelmed by fear. It can be hard to sleep. When the mind is riveted by images of doom, one loses the ability to live in the pres­ent. Fears of a natural disaster are common triggers for anxiety in children of all ages. Younger children don't even know when they are seeing replays and often think there is a new disaster each time footage is repeated. We must be wary of oversaturation with disaster and violent images.

The key is to stay connected and to communicate. In the midst of the 24-hour news cycle coverage of wars, man-made and natural disasters, there is opportunity. While many individuals and families might retreat, these events present important doorways to dialogue with our children. Such talks support their healthy development and strengthen the family bond.

First, check for your child's understanding: "What did you hear about the tsunami in Japan?" You might be surprised to learn that your child's perceptions are quite different from your own. Discuss and gently correct misperceptions. Then, inquire about their thoughts and feelings. Share your own in ways that are appropriate to the age of the child. Keep conversations short, perhaps only a minute or two at a time.

Staying connected during hard times is important not only for children and families, but also among co-workers and colleagues. Traditional Hawaiian values emphasize balance and rhythm in relationship to oneself, the community and the environment. Despite travails on the islands, we still need only to look up to be awed by the night sky. We can still swim in an ocean that is as clean as it gets and touch the aina with our bare feet. It is all about keeping our feet on the ground.

These are trying times for the economy and the environment. We do have a collective responsibility to remain informed on the issues of the day and to respond in a constructive way. There is a unique role for each of us to play in meeting the challenges at hand. Whether we mop floors, repair cars, educate our children or forge low-cost, high-tech solutions for the green economy, we are in this together.


Ira Zunin, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., is medical director of Manakai o Malama Integrative Healthcare Group and Rehabilitation Center and CEO of Global Advisory Services Inc. Please submit your questions to

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