News is all around us, and we’re constantly being bombarded with stories from around the world thanks to the 24-hour news cycle.
From our living rooms on the TV, to our offices on the computer, and pretty much everywhere else, thanks to mobile access, news is everywhere.
With all the shootings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters and general fear-mongering, the news can be a pretty scary thing to have all around you, even for an adult. So imagine how kids feel, and how impossible it can seem to offer them a shield of safety against these events.
There is a constant stream of information available to internet users in the modern world. Unfortunately, for kids, many of the news-related sites they’re accessing are designed to be read by adult audiences. This means that what they’re reading isn’t always age appropriate. For younger kids, they simply cannot understand news events in their own context, which can result in anxiety or even fear. Older children are a little better at understanding what might have happened, but it can be difficult for them to distinguish fact from fiction.
In any case, and for all ages, it’s important that parents consider their own reaction to certain events. Remember, your kids are looking to how you handle certain events to build their own reaction, so what you say matters. Staying calm and rational, even when you feel anxious or concerned, ensures that your kids will pick up those equalised emotions from you.
Here are some tips for discussing the news with your kids at all ages, and dealing with the inevitable questions that come up.
News And Under 7’s
With young children, particularly those under seven, it’s best to limit their access to news altogether. If you have the television or radio on, switch it off at the hour and half-hour on channels that regularly touch up on news. Also be cautious of flashing around newspapers that contain pictures, which can frighten young kids. This is particularly true when the images contain other children. At this age, kids don’t have good control over their concepts of fact and fantasy, which can make news very scary.
If your children do encounter news that freaks them out, it’s important to reassure them that they, along with you and their other family, are safe. When they’re young, kids are very concerned with anything that might separate them from their safety net, so assure them this won’t happen. You shouldn’t minimise their fears, but rather reassure them with logic. If the story they heard happened far away, tell them as much. If it happened closer to home, you might be able to share some ideas for what they can do to stay safe like sticking with a familiar adult. Reassuring your child might be as simple as sitting down with them, snuggling up and watching a movie, or just spending some quality family time together to take their mind off it.
News And 8-12’s
At this age, parents need to really carefully consider where their child is at in terms of their individual temperament and maturity level. Some kids can handle quite easily talking about events they’ve seen, which could feel threatening. Other children, those with a more sensitive side, might find it simply overwhelming. If you do have a sensitive child, try to keep them away from the repetitive news cycle, which can cause anxious feelings to increase.
It’s also important with kids of this age that you make yourself ready and available to deal with the inevitable questions and conversations that will arise from them coming into contact with news stories. Most kids between these ages are still figuring out their moral beliefs, leading to a very black/white way of looking at the world. As a result, you might need to explain to them that things aren’t always that simple. Parents should be careful about making generalisations, as kids often hold this information as the truth. Just talk to them about what they know, and understand that even if they didn’t hear about a story from you or your home, they may have heard it passed down through friends.
You should also explain the fact that news shows aren’t really so different from many others shows: they’re in competition. This means that decisions, like what stories are pushed and how they are screened, are impacted by that competition. Remember to be careful about children accessing images on the internet that go with articles, as they can often be quite harsh.
News And Teens
It can be difficult to gain access into what your teen is thinking, and as they absorb their information without you, it’s hard to know what they know. However, chatting with your teenager about the news stories they’ve encountered can be a great way of getting an idea about their sense of justice and morality. It’s also a good way to see what they might have picked up from their own social networks. When you’re talking to your teen abut the news, you can give your own insight, but take care not to dismiss theirs lest you close the conversation down.
You should be allowing teens to express how they feel about the events around them. Teenagers are still figuring out the world, but in many cases, they feel very passionate about current events and might even feel a personal connection for events close to home. It’s around this time that teens start to get an inkling of the violent world that they’ll soon be entering alone, which can lead to them needing some reassurance. If there is a certain story that you don’t agree with, particularly if the source of your disagreement is how it has been portrayed, discuss this with your teenager as well. It’s important that they see how sensational news works, so they can analyse and differentiate their news sources in the future.
At the end of the day, every child is different. You might find that your child has no interest in the news or any current affairs, or you may find them eager to read, learn and expand their horizons. The most important thing for kids to know is that they are safe. The second most important thing is that not everything is as it appears, even news. Teaching your children to be aware of underlying bias early makes them more conscious in the future, and that’s always a positive thing.