What do your kids know about nuclear attacks?

Here's a fact that is hard to explain to a kid: We have an estimated 23,000 nuclear weapons on earth, but we don't know where all of them are. In fact, according to Countdown to Zero, a riveting new documentary film, with nine nations possessing nuclear weapons capabilities and others racing to join them, the world is "held in a delicate balance that could be shattered by an act of terrorism, failed diplomacy, or a simple accident."

Growing up in New Mexico in the 1980s, I knew a few things about nuclear war:

  1. The first ever atom bomb was built and detonated in Los Alamos, a few hours from where I lived.
  2. One of the foothillls in the Sandia Mountains was filled with nuclear warheads, making Albuquerque target #1 for the Russians when it came time for World War III.
  3. If the big flash of light every came, I'd save my family by putting us in a canoe and sailing us down the Rio Grande.
In other words, I knew just enough to make a strange tapestry of logic around an area I sensed that adults were nervous about. And why wouldn't they be nervous? A bomb could drop at any time! Nothing would be left afterward! Everyone would turn orange and burn down to their skeletons, or at least according to "The Day After", that horrible ABC movie that my best friend and I watched despite assuring her parents we wouldn't, much to my eternal regret.

It seems that for as long as nuclear weapons have been in existence, we've been trying to explain their horrors to our children, with limited success. Just a glance at the 1950s film below, which encourages kids to "duck and cover" if they see a nuclear explosion, is enough to make clear the central problem: We've created a weapon from which there is very little escape.

The minute we tell our kids about the threat of nuclear war, we tell them of the reality of killing on a mass and instant scale. And if we are being truthful with them, we tell them that threat is far from over. In fact, according to a speech President Barack Obama gave earlier this year, while the risk of nuclear war between nations has gone down, the threat of nuclear attack by rogue groups has actually increased.

I turned to a variety of sources to try to find out how parents are talking to their kid's about nuclear arms and came up with shockingly little information. It seems that even after 60 years of living with it, we still haven't found a way to talk to our children about the very real dangers that face us.

So parents, I'm asking you directly: What do you tell your kids about the threat of nuclear attack? Do you talk about it at all? Sometimes? Rarely? And most importantly, how do you talk to your kids about something that is this scary without leaving them terrorized?