Dr. Laura Rubin recently facilitated a conversation “Talking About Tough Topics” with parents at Families First in Portsmouth, NH. She discussed how technologic innovation has transformed media and its role in the lives of children and adolescents. More children, even in economically disadvantaged families, are using newer digital technologies, such as interactive and mobile media, on a daily basis. Children are increasingly exposed to traumatic events, whether it be breaking news about school shootings, natural disasters, or sexual harassment/assault reports.
Dr. Rubin highlights strategies for helping children process difficult topics in the news and tips for parents to create a safe environment at home regarding news consumption.
Strategy #1. Common Sense Media strongly recommends parents wait until children are seven before exposing them to even a light level of news. Kids younger than seven can have a hard time differentiating between what is real versus what is fake. Younger children, for example, may not realize how far away Australia is and may believe they are in danger from the fires occurring.
Strategy #2. Experience news with your children to provide guidance and support. For example, if you are watching a news show together ask your child how they feel about a particular news event and, if applicable, connect to previous background knowledge. For younger children, you can encourage children’s engagement in current events by mentioning topics of importance to them, whether it’s a new discovery in space or the latest children’s movie trailer.
Strategy #3. Model good news consumption habits. Rather than scanning news headlines quickly on your phone, finding time to read without distraction, sitting down in a chair or sofa, and concentrating on what you are reading.
Strategy #4. Parents need to unplug. It is easy to get hooked into breaking news events and keep checking your device for updates. Just as you would provide guidelines for your children about screen time, limit your own screen time as well. You will be surprised how liberating this is!
Strategy #5. Investigate kid friendly new outlets. The following resource from Common Sense Media provides child and adolescent friendly news outlets where they can develop healthy news consumption habits and strategies for determining how news stories can be biased.
Strategy #6. Provide children with facts and the context of news. It is important to provide the backdrop of what children are hearing. For example, for children who heard about Iran bombing U.S. bases in Iraq, you can facilitate a larger conversation about the longstanding conflict in the Middle East. This is a chance for you to brush up on your own history to have educated conversations.
Strategy #7. Ask kids how they know what they’re watching is true, or what questions they might ask a source interviewed during a documentary. Given the rising trend for biased news reporting, it is important to teach your child critical thinking skills. As mentioned above, Common Sense Media provides interesting podcasts and websites for determining how news stories can be biased:
Strategy #8. Encourage action – if an article upsets your child, ask how they could respond or process their reactions. For example, your child could do fund raising to help families impacted by natural disasters, journal or write poetry about tragedies occurring in other countries, or learn more about the issue by visiting their local library.
Strategy #9. Choose a quiet moment to check in with your child (e.g., dinner, bedtime). – Breaking news can be tough for kids – facts can change quickly and initial reporting can be incorrect. Check-ins allow you to debunk myths and misconceptions.
American Academy of Pediatrics – Media and Young Minds
“Is The News Too Scary for Kids?” New York Times
“What to Say to Kids When the News is Scary”