Sensationalist news coverage seems to be at its peak these days with print publications, television shows, and the internet all competing to get the latest and most exciting coverage to you first. Unfortunately, this type of coverage can be very damaging and hurtful to young and more mature minds alike.
A 2013 study conducted after the Boston Marathon bombings in the United States revealed that individuals who were not directly connected to the event yet who were exposed to over six hours of daily media coverage were more likely to experience acute stress than those who were directly impacted by the event.
Previous studies have also found that there is an increase in PTSD symptoms (avoidance, intrusive memories and physiological hyperarousal) when children and adolescents are exposed to media coverage involving terrorist attacks.
There are so many opportunities for children to engage with violent and disturbing news coverage that it can be impossible to shield them from it. That’s why we’ve put together some tips on how to explain the news to your kids.
For young children (7 and under)
News coverage can be especially disturbing for children from preschool age up to the age of 7 years. Whenever possible, you should:
Turn off the news
Snap off the television and change the radio station if disturbing media coverage comes on. If you are reading the newspaper or are scrolling through news stories on your phone or computer, make sure you view the news at a time when your kids can’t see it.
Children of this age can easily incorporate worrying news into their own fears or fantasies. Their minds aren’t yet developed enough to make logical sense out of what they’re seeing and hearing.
Use distractions when appropriate
While it’s important to honour and listen to your child’s fears, sometimes the best solution after talking about a negative news story is to stay near, provide physical comfort, and to do something fun as a family. Keep the tone upbeat and positive, and only revisit the news event if your child brings it up again.
Reassure your kids
The two things children worry about the most when a traumatic event occurs is safety and separation from you. Reassure your child by pointing out the many protective measures that are in place to keep them secure. This may include:
- Pointing out that the door has a deadbolt, that you have an alarm system, that there are cameras set up, etc.
- Sharing that the event is taking place far away and not near your home
- Talking about “safe havens” in the neighbourhood (nearby friends, family, the school, etc.)
For middle schoolers (8 to 12 years old)
As your children enter the “tween” years, how you approach tragic news coverage will depend on the maturity and temperament of your child.
Talk about and curate the news
Children of this age will not only hear and see things on the news, but their friends at school will be talking about current events too. Filter what your child sees on the television and the internet, and talk about why a particular news outlet may have taken a certain approach to how they covered the story compared to another.
Engage in conversation
Kids in this age range are starting to develop their sense of morality and will have an opinion about what they see and hear. Start the conversation by asking them about what they think about what they’ve seen, and what their friends have said. Gently guide them to think constructively about what they’ve seen.
Teens often feel the most passionately about current news events. It’s critical for parents to touch base and tune in to what their teens think about what they’ve seen and heard.
Ask them about major news stories
Chances are your teen has already heard about the latest news event from friends, social media, or at school. Don’t be afraid to check in and ask them what they think about the news story, and use this as an opportunity to share your own insights without dismissing theirs.
Allow them to express themselves freely
Self-expression is important for teens. It allows them to develop their sense of justice, morality, and politics.
Much like children of all ages, a news event can be startling and scary for teens. If the news event happened close to home, for example, they may have concerns about how they too may be affected now or in the future. Reassure your teen that they are safe without dismissing or minimising his or her fears, and use this time to brainstorm ideas on how such an event can be avoided in the future.