Europe Travel in Wake of Attacks: Should you send your kids?

Last week, a school board in Ontario made the decision to cancel all planned trips to Europe for its students. The reason? The recent terrorist attacks in Belgium and France. This morning, on Canada AM I shared some thoughts along with fellow parent panel guests Chris Boddy and Julie Cole.   You can watch our discussion here:

I was grateful for the chance to share my concerns because the school board’s decision irks me on a number of levels. So much so thatI felt compelled to share some additional thoughts here. I’d love to hear your thoughts – yes, even the opposing views – on this one. I think the discussion around this is really important and goes beyond the particular students affected.

You can see a news story on the events that prompted this conversation here.

So here’s my problem with the Board’s decision:

1.The Board usurped the role of parents: To make a decision like this without parental consultation is offensive. I’m certain that parents would’ve been provided with a lot of information when making the original decision on whether to send their kids on this trip. In light of the recent events in Europe, I am also sure that some parents would’ve opted to not have their students participate. We don’t know though, because the Board didn’t ask them and that’s problematic.

2. The decision to cancel the trip was based on bad information: According to a school official in a news report on the situation, the decision was based on a US governmentthis is a Canadian board, remember – decision to raise their terror levels. Let’s remember that the US government currently has a worldwide ban on travel in effect. Worldwide. In other words, the US government believes that there is nowhere safe to travel in the WORLD other than the USA. We shouldn’t be relying on their alerts without considering our own and we need to give real thought to whether the reasoning behind that alert is rational.

3.    Our government has its own measurement system: The Canadian government suggests that travelers to Europe exercise “a high degree of caution” when traveling to Belgium and France – not every country in Europe.” Fair enough. Other places in the world that the government suggests you exercise a high degree of caution: Jamaica, St. Lucia and Mexico among others. Are you cancelling your plans to visit those places? Maybe, but if not why Europe? Also note that the “exercise a high degree of caution” risk level is one of four levels of travel advisory the country puts out. It is the second lowest and third highest. The risk level below it is “exercise normal security precautions.”

4. This is exactly what Terrorism aims to do: The goal of a terrorist attack is to create terror in the general population. When we give a knee-jerk reaction to an event of this magnitude and tragedy, we play right into their hands. More than that though, we, as our kids primary source of information, introduce fear into their lives when it may not be warranted.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think there are any risks to travel. Of course there are. There always have been. There likely always will be. But the risk of being attacked by terrorists is lower than the risk of dying from a car accident, a plane crash or obesity.

Still, I also understand that, as parents, these aren’t random acts we’re trying to prevent. We’re talking about OUR kids and that always makes for cloudier judgment. Our natural instinct to want to protect them and save them from any possible harm is a reality. I get that.

So what to do?

Remember why you said "yes" in the first place.

Remember why you said “yes” in the first place.

  1. Get the facts: Read the terror alert warnings from your government and measure them in context. Talk to people who are in a situation similar to yours (other parents of kids poised to take the trip, parents and teachers of kids who’ve already taken the trip, the organizers, etc.) .Confront your fears and ask the tough questions. What are the safety protocols that gave you comfort when you first said yes? Where are they traveling? What makes you uncomfortable? What are the real risks and what information do you have to support it?
  2. Talk to your kids: Ask them how they’re feeling about the potential travel? Are they nervous? Uncomfortable? Unfazed? Have a discussion where you listen more than you speak. Be careful not to push your irrational fears onto them but also be open to having an honest discussion.
  3. Remember the reasons independent travel is important: You once thought this trip was a good idea. Why? What benefits did you see for your child? What were your hopes for the trip? Have those changed? Are you any less committed to them? And if you have wavered, do you have concrete reasons for doing so? You may come out of this analysis committed to your gut feeling that it’s not a good idea. That’s ok, too. It’s the analysis that is important.
  4. Prepare them: Just as you likely wouldn’t have sent them off on a big trip without a discussion about staying in contact, remaining aware of their surroundings and trusting their instincts, before the recent tragedies, you should expect to have conversations that prepare them now. Technology is your friend. Equip them with a cell phone and a sim card that will allow them to contact you (or you them) if you need to. Talk about what to do in case of any emergency – not just a terror related one.
  5. Let them go: The chance of a terror attack does not decrease because you are beside them in Europe. School trips, near or far are an opportunity for independence , learning and growth. Let them go, or don’t, but don’t water down the experience with your fears. That’s not fair to them.

What do you think? Would you send your child off on a school trip now?

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