When my 8 year old son told me, “The Taliban is my enemy,” I knew that life, especially school life, would never be the same for our children. When I asked him what he knew about the Taliban, he told me they were men who wanted to kill us all.

Life has changed for most of us post Peshawar. Many of us wish we could turn back the clock and send our children to their classrooms without a cloud of danger hovering over our heads. We have been facing terrorism since a decade now but we never thought our children would become part of this war. Peshawar changed all that.

While the media is constantly playing the bravery card, most of us are scared. Period. We cannot bear to think of how the parents of students in Army Public School Peshawar muster up the courage to send them off every morning. We are living in constant fear and that fear is being passed on to our children. Further, we are emotionally burdening our children by forcing them to rise to the occasion and act brave.

Post 16/12, most children are feeling anxious. A fifth grader told me, “ I don’t feel safe going to school anymore. Everyday we go though a drill to practice if the terrorists come. When it starts, my heart starts beating faster.”

Another mother said the drills upset the children, making them relive an event over and over again. Children have started feeling like they’re being specifically targeted and so, live in constant fear. Schools are part of a daily routine and the norm has been sabotaged by uncertainty.”

Added to this, is a feeling of utter hopelessness. One seventh grader confessed that he knew the drills could not protect them. “If they decide to kill us,” he said, “nothing will help.” After Peshawar, many parents have had to have painful discussions with their young children about death. As one mother told me, “It is hard to explain to an 11 year old why someone as old as him should have to take 21 bullets in their tiny body to get to God.”

This is the reality. Going to school is not a choice that the children have been given. They have to study, learn and yet constantly be on their guard.

The situation badly affects the school administration as well. A principal of a local private school says, “The sense of responsibility has increased manifold and a feeling of danger around the corner prevails. While children are in school, we are monitoring things more personally and closely. As the students roll in there is a silent prayer in my heart and at home-time there is relief that another day has gone by smoothly.”

A Harvard study shows that early exposure to circumstances that produce persistent fear and chronic anxiety can have lifelong consequences by disrupting the developing architecture of the brain. Unfortunately, our young children are exposed to trying circumstances. The media too, is a constant reminder of the times we are living in.

Parents’ suggestions of removing school signs, no uniforms, checking of cars before entering school lanes, and putting barriers up, to name a few, have been met with flat refusals. Whatever arrangements have been made are surely not adequate in the case of a terrorist attack. Most schools either have no emergency exits or plans, or the plan entails evacuating from the back gate into an open field or on to the road, which is as good as not having one.

It is a conscious decision on every parent’s part about sending their child to school. There can be no absolutely safe schools, here or anywhere in the world. But it is not an easy decision and it is taking its toll on everyone’s minds.

A qualified therapist has said on the matter: “Schools are giving a lot of information to the students but the anxiety caused by this information is not processed. It is up to the parents to address this anxiety by questioning the root cause. Soothing the kids can temporarily help to reduce their sense of panic but this prolonged sense of fear over the years can affect them as adults.”

As a mother, and indeed as a Pakistani, one hopes and prays that our children will see better times soon and that schools will once more become places of cherished, happy memories.