In the age of constant media exposure, it’s impossible to completely shield our kids from the 24-hour news cycle. Reports and imagery about mass shootings, terrorist attacks, war and natural disasters like hurricanes, forest fires and tornados bombard us on a daily basis on TV, radio and the internet. And even if your kids aren’t exposed to these unsettling stories at home, there’s a good chance they are hearing about it at school.
It can be tempting to quickly change the channel (or close the computer) and brush off or ignore questions about current events, but it’s critical to talk to your kids about what they are seeing and hearing. Not only can the news upset kids and make them anxious that something might happen to them or their family, ignoring their questions can make those feelings more intense. Here’s how to manage kids and the news.
Minimize kids’ exposure to the news.
While you can’t filter what kids hear at school or see in public places, you can minimize their exposure to media by using parental controls on internet-enabled devices. Also consider limiting their screen time and the type of content they consume—the less time kids spend with media, the less likely they are to come across information they are too young to understand and process.
Ask what they know.
As much as we try to protect younger children from hearing about the terrible things that are happening in the world, they likely know more than we think. It’s not uncommon for kids, particularly if they are in school, to hear about current events—if not firsthand, then from their peers or even older kids. If your child comes to you having seen images of or heard about a horrific event, it’s important to understand what they have been told or think happened. Then listen carefully to what they have to say.
Tell them the truth.
Understanding what a child knows about a news event can help you clear up any misconceptions or misinformation. While you shouldn’t lie about an upsetting story, your explanations should be age appropriate. In other words, you don’t have to tell them the whole truth or provide unnecessary details. Simplifying the information can help kids process what they saw or heard.
Ask how it makes them feel.
Hearing about natural disasters, mass shootings and other horrific events happening around the world can be devastating to kids, even older ones. They may feel sad or confused or fear for their family, their community and their school. It’s normal to have these feelings. Let them talk about their fears and reassure them they are safe. Check in with them about their feelings over the next few days or weeks, particularly if the news event is ongoing.
Explain the broader context.
Often news is presented in the form of sound bites and clickbait-style headlines with accompanying photos or videos that provide no information about the broader context of a story. Use these opportunities to talk about larger issues in our world. You’ll want to continue to make sure you are relaying information that is age appropriate, but even with younger children, discussing current events can help you explain how the government works and how large and diverse our world is. Use these teachable moments to help them gain empathy for others and have a broader worldview.
Let them make a difference.
Stories about natural disasters are upsetting to kids who see other children losing their homes, neighborhoods, schools and more. But there is one way to turn these frightening images into something positive—teach your child the value of giving. Moreover, taking action by helping others can help alleviate your child’s intense feelings of fear and sadness. Give your kids the opportunity to do something positive in the face of negative news stories.