How to Talk to Your Child about the News
- :Mary L. Gavin, MD
Reviewed by : Mary L. Gavin, MD
Although news gleaned from television, radio, or the Internet often is a positive educational experience for kids, problems can arise when the images presented are violent or the stories touch on disturbing topics.
News about a natural disaster, such as the devastating earthquake in Haiti, could make kids worry that something similar is going to hit home, or fear a part of daily life — such as rain and thunderstorms — that they'd never worried about before.
Reports on natural disasters, child abductions, homicides, terrorist attacks, and school violence can teach kids to view the world as a confusing, threatening, or unfriendly place.
How can you deal with these disturbing stories and images? Talking to your kids about what they watch or hear will help them put frightening information into a reasonable context.
How Kids Perceive the News
Unlike movies or entertainment programs, news is real. But depending on a child's age or maturity level, he or she may not yet understand the distinctions between fact and fantasy. By the time kids reach 7 or 8, however, what they see on TV can seem all too real. For some youngsters, the vividness of a sensational news story can be internalized and transformed into something that might happen to them. A child watching a news story about a bombing on a bus or a subway might worry, ‘Could I be next? Could that happen to me?’
Natural disasters or stories of other types of devastation can be personalized in the same manner. A child in Massachusetts who sees a house being swallowed by floods from a hurricane in Louisiana may spend a sleepless night worrying about whether his home will be OK in a rainstorm. A child in Chicago, seeing news about an attack on subways in London, might get scared about using public transportation around town. TV has the effect of shrinking the world and bringing it into our own living rooms.
By concentrating on violent stories, TV news also can promote a ‘mean-world’ syndrome and give kids an inaccurate view of what the world and society are actually like.
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