, Salem, MA

April 26, 2013

In tragedy aftermath, watch for anxiety

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap
Dr. Kate Roberts

---- — Last Friday evening in a matter of minutes, Massachusetts went from weeklong despair to celebration. The experience created a teachable moment and lesson children can use throughout their lives: that even when darkness hits, light comes after. Sometimes we don’t know when the light will appear, but if we are patient, it will come.

Despite the relief we all feel now, I know many parents are asking if it is over for our children or if we should expect ongoing reactions in the days ahead? Here’s what parents need to know:

People are resilient, and most children will process and heal from this tragedy without many lingering anxieties or worries.

Still, children who were exposed to the event either directly or through media images may experience intrusive thoughts. These unwanted thoughts typically occur during times of anxiety or stress. For example, your 12-year-old son is about to play his first lacrosse game. You sense he’s anxious, but he’s not verbalizing it. Instead, he says something like, “Mom, are we sure those officers are never coming to our house?”

As a parent, you’re wondering what he’s talking about until you remember Watertown. You breathe deeply and remind him that the event is over, that everyone is safe. Then you ask him how he’s feeling about his game. As you reassure him, you’re also redirecting him back to what’s really causing the anxiety.

That might be the only time your son mentions the Boston tragedy. If so, don’t raise it with him. But it is good to note that if a pattern of such intrusive thoughts emerges over time, it indicates a more general anxiety that could be addressed professionally.

Children who also experience extreme life changes, such as their parents’ divorce, may demonstrate anxiety through the Boston tragedy. For example, the tragedy might trigger feelings of helplessness, loss, confusion or fear, similar to what children experience if their parents divorce. If they have nightmares or thoughts about the Boston event, parents should encourage them to talk about their feelings. Children with pre-existing anxiety or trauma are often at a higher risk of ongoing symptoms and could be helped professionally.

Parenting tip: As we move further from our city’s tragedy, it’s easy to get busy again with the realities of daily life. Take time, though, to volunteer locally to help others. As you do, your children will remember your service and will likely focus on what your family did to make the world a better, safer place.

Q: Dr. Kate, is “Minecraft” safe for my 9-year-old?

A: I remember when my 10-year-old son asked me if he could download “Minecraft.” I asked him what it was and he answered, “The online version of Legos.” I laugh now thinking about it, because “Minecraft” is more complicated than Legos. Here’s some of what parents need to know:

“Minecraft” (2009) is likened to Legos in that it’s a game that emphasizes building and thinking creatively. You can play “Minecraft” on a mobile device, computer or interactively online, and “Minecraft” fan communities are growing.

Team building occurs online when players share creations and discuss (through chat sessions) how to build together or take down other people’s creations. They “team up” to overcome or steal from other players, thus positive and negative interactions can occur.

But when played online, “Minecraft” allows players to interact with strangers, some of whom are adults. Using a “chat” feature, they interact with their friends, yet may also gang up with strangers to fight off “monsters.” Players can set up their own place (server) that is “invite-only” using a private server, a task only an IT person can achieve.

“Minecraft” isn’t known for its scary graphics and gory violence. Still, there are monster images and sounds that could frighten younger children who don’t know about the game or haven’t before seen the images. Which is why it is not recommended for children under 13 to play online unless it is in the presence of a supervising adult. It may be appropriate for children ages 7 to 9 to play offline, in a downloaded version, if parents disable the monsters and set the difficulty level to PEACEFUL in the options menu.

And as with any gaming system, I have concerns that it can be addictive. It’s best for parents to access resources such as to learn more about “Minecraft” (,

Parenting tip: Know about “Minecraft” and other games. Allow your children to play online only when you can supervise, and know who’s on their server. Limit the number of hours they play. Like any addictive Internet or video game, too much “Minecraft” can create an increasingly negative attitude and behavior in your child. So set limits.


Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach; her focus is helping parents help their children. Direct your questions to or, or follow her on Twitter @DrKateParenting.