CHILDREN: Parents Can Help Defuse Bad News


This article originally appeared in Issue# 50

What to do when violence, war and disasters dominate the news.

News is now entertainment. TV news is no longer just "talking heads." From videos of the latest disaster to photos of missing children, even newspapers carry graphic headlines and photos. Most adults want children to be well informed and interested in current events, but what happens to children who watch re-enactments of crimes, see close-ups of murder victims, or experience the play-by-play excavation of trapped earthquake victims?

Adults have learned to distance themselves from the tragedies being enacted in their living rooms. But children have no such defenses. Unlike any previous generation, today's parents need to confront the fears, questions and confusion today's graphic news coverage may raise in children. What can adults do?

Children need help to understand the techniques and special effects used in the news, just as they need explanations of the mechanics of movies and entertainment television. Consumer education should include the consuming of information.

When violence, war and disasters hit the news, encourage children to talk about their fears and concerns, and give them ideas of action that they can take to feel in control. This could include a discussion of personal safety; tornado, fire, or earthquake precautions; and personal action to try to reduce the probability of war. Children need help to realize that fears raised by crime and disaster reports are exaggerated. Such a debriefing requires special attention during or immediately following newscasts. Avoid the temptation to totally turn off the kids while YOU watch.

Finally, try to choose news programs or newspapers and magazines with less sensational approaches. Banish irresponsible informants. And if the news is simply too intense for the young children in your home, consider scheduling special activities for the children that will keep them occupied while you watch, or tape the news and watch it after the children have gone to bed.

Author Bio: 

Judith Myers-Walls, PhD is associate professor of child development at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.