We live in a time when the happiest people may be those who are the most ignorant about what’s happening in the world. I say this with all seriousness because it’s very difficult to be mindful and to stay in the present, while keeping up with the influx of tragic world news that bombards most people’s phone apps.
Children and teens tend to be on their phone more than their parents, and thus, they have a greater likelihood of reading up-to-the-minute news via tweets, posts or snaps. Given that kids are one step ahead of their parents when it comes to media access, what can parents do to manage kids’ access to news and to help kids to stay focused on the present and react appropriately to tragic news events?
It’s important for parents to realize that children of all ages, and even adults, can become are very upset and emotionally disturbed by the news today.
Here are some tips to help parents manage the impact of the news on their children:
1. How parents react to bad news will affect the reaction of their children and others around them. Parents need to stay calm and rational and process their emotions when they are away from their children.
2. Children who are in elementary school, and even some middle-schoolers, are not fully able to grasp horrific news about shootings, suicides and other violence. Therefore, they should not be allowed to have access to news events without the supervision of their parents. Parents should develop a framework to explain tragic world events to younger children in a way that will minimize upset by using statements such as, “Sometimes, bad things happen, and it takes time to understand the reasons behind these events. Experts are working on figuring it all out. In the meantime, we are safe, and the world at large is a great place.”
3. When tragic news strikes, look for ways to empower your children to act positively by reaching out to the victims or helping others in the community. Taking action to make the world a better place helps children feel positive despite negative events happening in the world.
4. If your child hears about an event that you wish you could have protected them from, don’t lie about it. If they are under the age of 10, they need reassurance that regardless of what they heard, they are safe and protected. Children over 10 may need explanation, so try to tell them that there often is not a simple explanation behind violent action, but experts will find out the reasons and handle it professionally. Put the focus back on the children by praising them for their empathy and talking to them about how they can use that sensitivity in their everyday lives to make the world a better place.
5. Children older than 13 need to have their questions answered and to process their thoughts and feelings about violent events with parents and adults.
6. Periodically check in with older children, and discuss ways to limit their news access if they are having trouble managing their negative thoughts about an event. Explain to them that it is not a sign of apathy or indifference if someone does not follow every second of every newsworthy event. In fact, in today’s world, it’s a sign of prudence and ability to be mindful and focused on the present.
7. The healthiest way for parents and older teens to access news is to do it at a specific time every morning, and not otherwise. That way, people stay abreast of current events without becoming preoccupied by them and distracted from daily life.
Dr. Kate Roberts is a licensed child and school psychologist and family therapist on the North Shore. Ask a question or make a comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.