So how can we make the news an educational experience for our kids, instead of something scarring and traumatic for life?
Before you explain it, think of how it is perceived
The most important thing to remember when exposing your kids to the news, is that children perceive things much differently than an adult, according to KidsHealth.org. A news report about something like a school shooting or a bombing, for example, can make them fear that it will happen to them and it can cause severe anxiety. They also may be afraid of things as simple as a thunderstorm by watching the news– especially when newscasters use terms like “deadly” and “severe”.
Take a step back when viewing the news, and think of how your child might perceive it. Try to find news programs that do not use sensationalized, loud, or particular disturbing images. You might want to check out a news website and watch it alone at a later time, or watch short clips of reports to decide if that it a channel worth bringing into your living room. Sometimes, there is no way to sugar-coat or dull the news down, but trying to find the right TV news station that doesn’t make every single story completely terrifying can help. You can also encourage your kids to read the newspaper, which you can easily monitor before they see it.
Break it down into simpler terms and be proactive
It is important to keep your kids informed on what is going on with the news, but you should also try to explain it to them in terms that they can understand, according to KidsHealth.org. Ask your kids what they think about current events, how it makes them feel, and what they think the people involved should do.
Ask them what they can do to help as well. Sometimes, especially in a traumatic event or a natural disaster, it can be easy to feel powerless and small, which will cause your child to have more fear. By helping your child find some way to help, no matter how small, you are empowering them against fear. Be open to their questions as well and don’t be afraid to tell them your opinion of a news story.
It is also important to teach your child the context of a news story. Is this an isolated incident being reported? Something more regular? What are the chances that your child will ever encounter what they are discussing on the report? Your kids should be informed, but they should also learn to use the news as a reference point for the world around them. If they don’t understand a report’s context, they may think that tragedies happen every day to every person and that is not realistic.
Filter what types of media they consume
KidsHealth.org suggests that you watch TV news with your kids so that you can filter it, and then turn it off once you have seen the report. Discourage your kids from watching the same report over and over. If you want to follow a story, perhaps you would like to keep up with breaking news during a tragedy for example, consider downloading an app on your phone or visiting a news website so that your child is not constantly exposed to it.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests letting your child know that it is okay to be upset or even angry after a traumatic event in the news, but to field how much information your kids are taking in. You should also assure your kids that you will do everything you can to keep them and the rest of your family safe.
Another thing you can do to help your kids stay informed without staying afraid or confused, is to encourage them to consider their news sources as they grow older. KidsHealth.org suggests that you teach your kids to consider why something is newsworthy or why it is on the air. For example, was a segment on the air just to boost ratings, or is it something that will actually have an effect on their lives? When a teen or child understands the mission of the news, they can more accurately choose a good news source and can feel in control of what they are exposing themselves. This is a good thing for parents to consider as well– is the news source you are watching just trying to boost ratings, or are they trying to keep you informed and safe?
Beware of overplaying the news. Especially in matters of extreme tragedy, like a school shooting for example, we can be tempted as adults to be sucked into what is called the “24 hour news cycle”. When we watch these news stories over and over, it can instill fear in kids and cause them to become a little obsessed and afraid of the tragedy, making them think that it will happen to them.
It is true that knowledge is power, and the news can be a powerful and highly useful tool for teaching your kids about the world around them. With open communication, the right news sources, and a little monitoring, having a news informed child can be a great thing!
If your kids or teens want to find ways to get involved after local events or tragedies, visit The Children’s Board online.