Author: Victoria Candland
Talking to your kids about current events can be tricky and it differs for each child and their ability to understand. And each situation is different—you can talk to your children more easily about the protests in Hong Kong than you can about the protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
Don’t go blindly into discussing current events; here are some tools for discussing world news with your children:
Sometimes, Turn It Off
When a disturbing story is breaking like 9/11 or the beheadings of the American journalists in Iraq, turn the TV off. Live coverage doesn’t provide the needed analysis of what’s happening so it can be traumatizing for adults and children alike. When you hear about a tragic breaking news story, give yourself and your children time to digest and talk about the ways you can remain hopeful. Make sure to incorporate your beliefs about right and wrong. Limit your children’s exposure to graphic images no matter what age they are. Graphic images don’t serve any purpose besides scarring your child’s mind. Remember that children are much more affected by pictures than by words.
No matter what event is being discussed, keep calm. Even if you feel slightly in danger, don’t show any stress or anxiety to your child. Also, keep the schedule. Your child might be upset about the news and unable to process it well. Keep your schedule as close to normal as you can, showing them that daily life still goes on for many other people around the world. In the event of a terror attack or public shooting, focus on the positive as much as possible. Our automatic reaction is to express horror and to talk about the “bad guys,” but don’t forget to discuss the people who are there trying to help during or following the devastating event. Show that the good of humanity outweighs the bad.
Ask questions about your child’s perception and feelings to gauge how they are reacting to the event. Correct any misconceptions or misinformation and assure them that they are safe. After Elizabeth Smart’s abduction in 2002, some girls had to receive professional therapy because they were terrified that an armed man would take them from their homes in the middle of the night—just like Elizabeth was taken. Ensure your children that they are safe and ask what you can do to help them feel safer.
Children 10 and Under
Keep bad news from young children 10 and under. They just won’t understand and you can tell them when they are older. Simplify news that you think is critical for them such as a family member being ill or something else that’s pertinent to their individual life.
Only talk about scary current events if your child brings it up first. Kids can normally tolerate and understand more information when they reach 10 years old. To young children, the world seems very literal and small. They think that because a tsunami happened in Thailand, they are at risk in Arizona, or if a building blew up, that it’s where daddy works. Eric Fisher, clinical psychologist, recommends showing your child where the event happened on a map or globe and compare it to where you live so they can see that it’s half a world away.
In daily life, Fisher also suggests shielding your children from violence in video games and media because they are unable to process it well and ultimately can be desensitized to real world violence and not regard it as morally wrong.
Teenagers Above 13
Your teenagers can and should be more engaged in the news and current events. Watch the news with them and discuss their views on the matters during commercial breaks. If a natural disaster occurred, research the hurricane or tornado together and learn what causes these phenomena. Discuss international situations like the ISIS predicament in Iraq. Ask your teenager what he thinks about the foreign jihadists joining the group and the group’s mission to create an Islamic emirate, as explained here. Asking them questions will help their critical thinking skills and ultimately improve their performance in school.
Remember that each of your children will process current events differently and be hyper-aware of their emotions as you discuss hard topics. Comfort your children—try watching or reading a positive story about someone helping others after you discuss heavy, devastating events to show them that there are still plenty of good-hearted people in the world.