Help young children deal with media reports of violence in the news

Recent scary news events in the news may seem real to a preschooler. Be available to talk and listen.

Be mindful about what children see on television.

Be mindful about what children see on television.

It seems as though violence is everywhere. Young children today have more exposure to news information than previous generations. Most Americans are in-tune like never before through cell phones, television, radio and the Internet. In many homes, television is playing non-stop in the background as white noise. American children are watching an average of four hours of television a day and violence is part of regular television programming. News is broadcast on nearly every channel and often breaks in to regular programming with up-to-the-minute updates, showing violent local and world events. Many young children are witnessing violence on a daily basis.

Even when children are not directly watching television, a breaking news release can interrupt play, distract, confuse and even frighten them. As adults who care for young children, we need to make informed decisions about what, where and how much exposure children should have to violent news, television programs, videos and movies. The American Academy of Pediatrics has made recommendations on media use to assist parents in setting boundaries for screen time, but we also need to be prepared to handle the fallout that can come from witnessing violence in the news.

Decisions about how much television and when to allow young children to view television should take into consideration the following suggestions from Michigan State University Extension.

  • Consider development. How much screen time is too much for a child’s developmental stage and age? Preschool age children may have difficulty telling the difference between a real event and fantasy. An explosion in a child’s cartoon may seem very similar to a news story about a bombing in Paris. Make it very clear when something is not real, is pretend or “just a story.”
  • Honesty is the best policy. When your child is exposed to a frightening real-life event, help them understand where and when the event is taking place. If a child sees a school tragedy being reported repeatedly, they might need to be reminded the event only happened once and the news is repeating it many times. They may also need reassurance about the safety of their own school.
  • Talk, talk and talk some more. Discuss how you feel when you see a sad thing happen. Ask questions and give information. Let your child take the lead and give only the basics about what happened. “There was an explosion and some people got hurt.” Explore children’s books about feelings to assist you in discussing a particular feeling that may be new or frightening to your child.
  • Be available. If a news event or a recent happening is affecting a child’s sleep or daytime activities, make yourself available to discuss the event when the child needs you and reassure them you will keep them safe.
  • Ask an expert. Speak to your child’s teacher, physician or childcare provider to alert them about any continuing concerns you might have. Know where to find professional help if needed. Explore community mental health services for resources in your area.

Watch television with your child and evaluate your own media use and that of other adults in your home. Violence in the news is real and not likely to go away. Make your home the place where children can talk, ask questions and get honest answers that make them feel safe and secure.

For more on information caregiving or family issues that affect you and your family, visit the eXtension website.

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