Unlike movies or entertainment programs, news is real. But depending on their age or maturity level, children might not yet understand the distinctions between fact and fantasy.
By the time children are aged seven or eight years old, however, what they see on TV can seem all too real. For some children, the vividness of a sensational news story can be internalised 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 personalised in the same manner. A child who sees news of airline disasters may spend a sleepless night worrying about whether his next family holiday will end in similar circumstances. A child in Sydney, 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.
Some ideas in relation to news, their effect on children and how to discuss them…
- Recognise that news doesn’t have to be driven by disturbing pictures. Public TV programs, newspapers, or newsmagazines specifically designed for children can be less sensational — and less upsetting — ways of getting information to children. Find ways to expose the children to these to provide a more balanced and appropriate experience.
- Discuss current events with children regularly. It’s important to help children think through stories they hear about. Ask questions: What do you think about these events? How do you think these things happen? These questions can encourage conversation about non-news topics too.
- Put news stories in proper context. Showing that certain events are isolated or explaining how one event relates to another helps kids make better sense of what they hear. Broaden the discussion from a disturbing news item to a larger conversation: Use the story of a natural disaster as an opportunity to talk about philanthropy, cooperation, and the ability of people to cope with overwhelming hardship.
- Create ‘news programs’ – opportunities for children to act as journalists, panel members, rescuers, victims etc. and explore news items from various angles
- Anticipate when guidance will be necessary and prepare yourself to explore news topics with the children ahead of them arriving in the centre
- If you’re uncomfortable with the content of news items consult with colleagues and identify who the ‘go to’ person can be for children to explore the topic
- Talk about what you can do to help. After a tragic event, children may gain a sense of control and feel more secure if you help them find ways to help those affected by the tragedy or honor those who died.
Would anybody like to share their experience with this topic?