Recent months have seen some tragic events take place across the world. Taliban gunmen killed scores of people, most of them children, in an attack on an army-run school in Peshawar. On December 28 AirAsia flight QZ8501 disappeared from radar, the recovery operation is still underway. There was significant loss of life during the New Year celebrations in Shanghai, and France has been the victim of deadly attacks this last week. As adults, we depend on “The News” as our primary source for information about the world we live in. Whether it is newspaper, TV newscasts, or web sites, graphic footage and accounts of the latest happenings in the world are delivered right into our homes 24 hours a day. This can be overwhelming for adults, but it can be especially confusing and frightening for young children.
Sometimes we don’t realize how much our kids actually watch or read of the news. Even if you avoid exposing your kids to the news, they still get the latest news accounts from their peers. Some news networks stay away from showing images that are too graphic, prefacing them with warnings, and only showing such images after the 10pm watershed. Other networks are less restrictive on what they show and when they show it. News channels across the world differ greatly in their use of images. The reasons may be cultural differences and of course editorial differences. There are networks that believe if you edit coverage then you are censoring.
We can’t shy away from what’s happening in the world, and the news can teach children many positive things. Knowledge and understanding of news events can teach kids a sense of belonging and social responsibility. Kids have access to much more information today than previous generations, so by recognizing this, and talking about the stories and images they are exposed to, we can help kids better understand the world around them. The question of how much exposure should children have to the news, is very much dependent upon their age.
Most kids under the age of six have a limited ability to differentiate between what they see in a film from the reality of news. This means they are as likely to be afraid of what they see on the news, as they are of monsters, or other fictional worries. Experts talk about “desensitization”, whereby prolonged exposure to news and other media reduces the emotional response to even the most shocking images. For very young kids, it’s best to only allow them to watch the news with parental supervision, and for parents to assess the types of news stories that are appropriate.
Kids between the ages of six and ten are most vulnerable to what they see on the news. They know the difference between fantasy and reality, but they lack perspective. Instead of worrying about monsters under the bed, they tend to worry about real dangers like kidnapping, plane crashes, and earthquakes. Kids this age also don’t tend to understand the frequency with which events occur. If they hear about a plane crash, they won’t understand that it’s a rare occurrence. The fact it was on the news may lead them to believe plane crashes are a common event. It’s still important that at this age, parents’ are watching the news with their child, and can help them to develop a realistic sense of danger.
Adolescents have grown to be much more media savvy. They have a better understanding of fact and fiction, but their constant exposure to media and peers can lead to conflicting information and confusion. You can’t be there to monitor everything your child is exposed to at this age, but it is extremely important to be aware of what media they are exposing themselves to. Use the news as an opportunity to discuss tough issues with your kids. If you see something that may be upsetting to them, talk about the subject. If they’re worried about war and fighting, talk with them about the chances of that happening. Being honest and open is often the best policy.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.