Seeing news about upsetting events — like terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and natural disasters — can make kids worry that something similar could happen to them or their loved ones. It also can make them fear some part of daily life (like thunderstorms) that they never worried about before.
Parents can help kids deal with these disturbing stories and images. Talk together about what they watch or hear and put frightening information into a reasonable context.
How Can the News Make Kids Worry?
Depending on their age or maturity level, kids might not yet understand the differences between fact and fantasy.
But by the time they're 7 or 8, what kids see on TV can seem all too real. For some, coverage of a sensational news story is internalized and becomes something that might happen to them. A child watching a news story about a bus bombing or a shooting in a crowded public place might worry, "Could I be next? Could that happen to me?"
Natural disasters can be personalized in the same way. Kids who see footage of floods from a hurricane far away may spend a sleepless night worrying about whether their home will be OK in a rainstorm.
TV and the Internet "shrink" the world and bring it into our homes. With a focus on violent stories, the news can make the world seem more dangerous to kids than it really is.
How Can Parents Talk About the News?
To calm children's fears about the news, parents should be prepared to deliver the truth, but only as much truth as a child needs to know. The key is to be honest and help kids feel safe. There's no need to go into more details than your child is interested in.
Although it's true that some things — like a natural disaster — can't be controlled, parents should still give kids space to share their fears. Encourage them to talk openly about what scares them.
Older kids are less likely to accept an explanation at face value. Their budding skepticism about the news and how it's produced and sold might mask anxieties they have about the stories covered. If older kids are bothered by a story, help them cope with these fears. An adult's willingness to listen sends a powerful message.
Teens also can be encouraged to consider why a frightening or disturbing story was on the air: Was it to increase the program's ratings or because it was truly newsworthy? In this way, a scary story can be turned into a worthwhile discussion about the role and mission of the news.
What Else Can Help?
It's always important to keep an eye on kids' TV and online viewing habits so you know what they hear and see. Other tips:
- Discuss current events with your kids regularly. Help them think through stories they see or hear about. Ask questions: What do you think about these events? How do you think these things happen?
- Watch the news with your kids to filter inappropriate or frightening stories.
- Anticipate when guidance is needed and avoid shows that are graphic or inappropriate.
- If you're uncomfortable with the content of the news, turn it off.
- Put news stories in context. Broaden the discussion from a disturbing news item to a larger conversation: Use the story of a natural disaster as a way to talk about philanthropy, cooperation, and the ways that people cope with hardship. Was an event an isolated incident or related to something else? This helps kids make better sense of what they hear.
- Talk about what you can do to help. After a tragic event, finding ways to help those affected by it can give kids a sense of control and help them feel more secure.
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