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Difficult Messages in the Media: Helping Kids Understand What they see in the News

Ellen Daubert, MS, NCC, LPC, Clinical Supervisor for Treatment Foster Care & Outpatient TherapistBoy watching TV

Children live in a modern world, where access to news media is easy with TV, social media and other platforms. Sometimes, especially recently, news messages are about tragic and controversial topics. It is highly potential that this information shapes what children think, do and know and it is important to keep a few things in mind when there are difficult messages in the media.

Age & Comprehension

  • Pictures and information shown on TV is often times too graphic for children to view. If they are too young to comprehend what they have seen, even with discussion, it probably isn’t age appropriate.
  • What children see on the TV in their home seems really close even though it is in a different state or country because they are seeing it on TV in their home. Proximity is hard for kids to understand.
  • Seeing and hearing tragic events create scary, insecure feeling in children which in turn may show up as whining, clingy, and acting out. Parents need to increase the secure nurturing to help child feel safe.

Limiting Exposure

  • Monitoring and limiting your child’s exposure to the media is vital. So much of what they see online or on TV is not real because it’s entertainment. When they finally do see news images, they might not realize what they are seeing is reality because they are more familiar with movies and video games.
  • Limiting our own watching of tragic events as adults will help us be stronger providers for our children. The impact of tragedies on the news may trigger our own sense of loss or insecurities. Your children know when things impact you, so if you are struggling with current challenges in the media, find resources to support yourself so your children are not seeing any direct impact.

 Answer Questions

  • Talk with your children about questions they may have and answer to their level of need.

Example:
Five-year old: “My friend at camp is mad because he said a police man hurt someone who was good and he saw it on TV.”
Your response: “Sometimes things do happen that are scary.” “What do you think about what your friend said?” 
Five-year old: “I just want my friend to feel better.”
Your response: “How do you think you could help your friend?”
Five-year old: “Maybe I can play with him tomorrow.”

Sometimes we take a child’s question way beyond the level of the child’s need with too much information or detail.  Try not to go above the need or level of understanding of information your child is hearing, seeing or interpreting based on talking to others.

Beyond these tips, it is important to acknowledge the existence of world and local tragedies. Let your kids know your feelings of sadness and worry, but remind them you are there to love, care for and keep them safe.