Explaining the news to your children
It seems that the world has been overrun with tragedies of late and for most parents, the natural instinct is to protect our children, and their innocence, from these events. Of course we want them to see only good in the world and we want them to play joyfully and freely without fear of disasters or unspeakable acts of evil. If only.
At some stage growing up, our kids will learn that bad things sometimes happen to good people. They’ll sadly also realize that really, truly atrocious things can happen too. The evening news seems to broadcast little other than the bad in the world and so it’s often impossible to shield your youngsters from current events, local, national or international. Our digital lives also results in bad news traveling way to quickly, it’s unavoidable.
A sensible approach to this topic gives regard to what knowledge is needed; what information is not needed and, very importantly, age appropriateness. I’ve collected some tips on how you can talk about the news to your kids – authentically, sensitively and protectively.
Don’t make the assumption that they have not heard about a tragic news event
It’s actually more than likely they have. Whether it be at school, with friends or through social media. Even watching non-news related television provides exposure to news updates and the release of breaking-news information. Ask what they do already know so that you have a starting point for discussion.
Keep discussion of news events age appropriate
A preschooler might be told that something awful has happened somewhere in the world, but they and their loved ones are safe.
A primary school child could be told more specific details of the event (it’s possible it will be discussed at school anyway) with a focus on the consequences for those involved or even a focus on a community’s show of support for victims. It should be acknowledged that it’s always ok to feel sadness for those directly affected but reinforcing their safety and well being is important to prevent unnecessary anxiety.
A teenager will most likely hear or read more about an event through social media than they will the evening news telecast. It is appropriate at this age to discuss opinion on the event but remind them that often bias is involved in the reporting and discussion of news events. Listen to their thoughts and encourage empathy for others and look for teachable moments. Still remember to remind them that everything is ok in their world.
Look for good news stories
When the news reports an uplifting news story (not that it seems to be all that often) grasp the opportunity to share with your kids that there is in fact some good to be found. It may not be front page, but happy news can be found!
Explain how news is constructed
Teach your kids that the TV news and Current Affairs programming is ultimately just part of a media business. There is money, much money, to be made through sensationalism and through the broadcasting of others’ misfortune. An event reported on the news is really someones interpretation of the incident and is open to bias and misinterpretation. Work with your kids to focus upon facts rather than insinuation.
Dreadful things have peppered the news forever: events such as natural disasters, man-made disasters, murders, assaults, air crashes, traffic accidents and missing people are not new to society. What has changed though is the manner in which we are informed of them. These days information is instant, it’s constant and almost unable to be avoided.
The need that our kids have to feel safe and protected remains very real amongst the barrage of bad news, so remembering to hug them tightly and often is my final tip.
How to talk about the news to your kids