As responsible parents, we’re alert to the dangers of TV and the internet, while most of us do our utmost to shield children from violent and sexually explicit material.
But what about the news? Night after night, horrific scenes are channelled into our homes, usually around tea-time when the whole family is likely to be around. Some may feel it’s pointless to protect youngsters from such scenes – and may even believe it’s good for them to see life as it actually is.
On the other hand, a recent survey showed 40% of parents interviewed admitted their children had been disturbed by fearful images, such as wars, natural disasters and acts of terrorism. The shocking events of 9/11, for example, the dreadful massacres in Syria and other trouble spots or the mass shootings at Sandy Hook School are reported over and over again, often accompanied by graphic images of injured people and shocking, heartrending witness accounts.
Adults understand that what we see played out on our screens has already happened and is a one-off event. Small children, however, have no concept of the 'action replay'. They think every time a scary scene appears on a TV or computer it’s actually happening – again and again and again! Such repeated exposure causing children to develop paralysing fears.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation: “Children who watch a lot of TV news tend to overestimate the prevalence of crime and may perceive the world to be a more dangerous place than it actually is.” The Foundation also observe that children aged 3-7 are more afraid of news relating to natural disasters and accidents, while children between 8-12 years are more worried by crime and violence.
One 11-year old was so disturbed by hearing after hearing of someone who decapitated a relative, she often has nightmares about the same thing happening to her. A 6-year old was terrified by reports of tornadoes, constantly imagining a tornado was on its way and that she would die. And, afraid of being kidnapped, a boy who’d lost his way in Utah hid from rescue parties for four days, almost starving to death in the mountains as a result!
If your child is affected by the news, here are a few ways you can help:
Limit the amount of news they watch, taking their age, emotions and sensitivity into account.
Watch the new with them so you can discuss any problems, highlighting positive aspects such as heroic rescue attempts and voluntary aid for victims.
Reassure them that tragedies are unlikely to happen; pointing out all the precautions you’ve taken, such as installing smoke alarms or security systems.
Discuss the likelihood of such events occurring and aim to help your child to get things in perspective.