Help preschool children deal with violence in the media
Families and child care providers should set limits for preschoolers’ exposure to violence in the media.
Preschool children today are surrounded by violence. Much of the violence that children are exposed to is through television and other screen time. According to data from the Nielson Company, pre-schoolers ages two to five spend 32.5 hours a week in front of the television, watching TV, watching shows recorded by DVR, watching DVDs or playing video games.
Our children have more exposure to information than previous generations and in many homes today the television is constant background noise. Even if children are not directly watching television, news flash interruptions can distract them, interrupt play, and confuse or frighten them.
Adults who care for very young children need to make informed decisions about what, where and how much exposure children should have to violent news, television programs, videos and movies. Whether or not we should allow children screen time depends on many different dimensions. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no television for children under two and “screen free” zones in homes.
- Set limits on screen time. Let children know when, where and how much screen time they are allowed to have. Limit television watching to times when an adult is present so you can supervise your child’s media exposure. Review movie ratings to be certain they are age appropriate. Discuss what you’re seeing with your child; talk about what is happening, answer and ask questions to determine if the child understands what he’s seeing.
- Consider the age and developmental stage of the child when allowing screen time. Preschool children often have difficulty discerning the difference between real events and fantasy. A shoot out in a movie and news coverage of a shooting like the recent one in Colorado might seem the same. Make it very clear when something is not real or is pretend or “just a story.”
- If your child is exposed to fearful news events, help him understand where and when the event is unfolding. Repeated news reports of the same event may seem as though there are many such events and may lead to irrational fears and worry. Repeated news reports on a school tragedy may make a child fearful of returning to his own school or day care center. Remind children that just because an event is repeated in the news does not mean it will happen to them. A young child may also need to be reminded that an event being reported is already over.
- Share your own feelings about news events, movies and TV shows with your children. Use lots of vocabulary to express your feelings. Explorechildren’s books about feelings that can assist children with ways to express their own strong emotions in appropriate ways.
- Keep lines of communication open. If a news event or a recent happening is affecting a child’s sleep or day time activities, make time and be open to discuss the event and reassure her that you will keep her safe.
- Speak to your child’s teacher, physician and/or child care provider to alert them about any continuing concerns you might have. Know where to find professional help if needed. Your local community mental health agency can assist you.
Evaluate your own media use and that of other adults in the home. Be mindful of activities, language and actions in your home that might conflict with the standards that you’ve set for your family. Be available to provide accurate information to talk and reassure. For more information consult the National PTA parent tip sheets on media use for families.
For more articles on child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.