World News is a mixture of everything. Good, bad, ugly, and many other things in between. These things converge and get beamed into our homes on our television screens and on social media. Bad and lurid news has better viewing figures. If the only source that you have on the way of the adult world is the news and social media you would think that we were always on the verge of a catastrophe and we should be in fear of crime continuously. While most adults can filter, self-regulate and put the news in context, children don’t have the experience to do this. A statistic by the AACAP, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is that though there’s been a decrease in the crime rate, crime news reporting has increased to 240 percent. Local news devote 30 percent of their broadcast time to reporting crime news.
Due to their naivety reports of crime, murder, rape, and natural disaster hit children harder. Even teenagers need a layer of protection from some television programs. It might leave children numb, trigger fear, anxiety, or stress, prompting aggressive behavior. This is by no means a complete indictment of the media and news houses. They are useful to society at large. Generally, children need to have a good grasp of current affairs, and they can only do that by watching the news. But it needs to happen in moderation at the appropriate age level. It will also require an adult with them to help them understand. It goes hand in hand with developing general knowledge and general reading.
Why Is It Important for Children to Watch the News and Stay Up-To-Date on Current Affairs?
With this in mind, we may feel that the best thing to do is to shield our children from this. I am sure we have all turned the radio off in the car when the news comes on and a particularly harrowing story starts to be told. News coverage offers a gateway to children’s immediate environment and the world at large. By watching the news, they get a picture of the kind of world they live in. News and America’s Kids wanted to know where children get their news, which sources they like better, and how they feel about the news. They surveyed 853 children between the age of 10 to 18. One-half of the participants said that following the news is important to them and that watching the news makes them feel smarter and more knowledgeable. The other half said that following the news helps them feel prepared to make a difference in their communities. Below are other reasons why children should watch the news.
- Exposes them to different realities. Life is not about unicorns, video games and rainbows. To completely shield your child from the news is to keep them naive, and unprepared for the messy world out there. There’s good and evil in the world, and your child needs to have the complete picture. Watching the news in moderation is a good way to do that. If you are with them when they hear these, you can help them realize the rareness of these events. It is also possible to develop your child’s critical thinking skills.
- Helps them develop empathy. This might seem like a stretch on the surface. But empathy comes from understanding. When your child understands why some atrocities happen globally, they also see why and how they could’ve happened. As a parent, you have a role to play in helping them understand empathy.
- They get real-time education on complex concepts. As a parent, you’re one of the main conduits through which your child perceives the world. Other mediums like television contribute. The news is certainly not all bad. Concepts like climate change, race, social issues, discoveries, and new technological inventions feature in the news all the time. Your child gets to hear different perspectives on climate change and race. We talk more about how to help your child understand different cultures.
At What Age Should You Let Your Child Watch News Coverage?
Your child’s age doesn’t always match their level of development. Age is one of the metrics to use in deciding when to allow your child to watch the news. But it shouldn’t be the only metric. “Use your common sense according to the age of your child, their temperament, and their developmental level,” says Dr. Grant Blashki, Associate Professor at the Nossal Institute and the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne. “It’s probably not a good idea for kids under six to watch the news. From six to 10, they can watch, but parents should sit with them and avoid stories with graphic details. Over the age of 10, it’s still important to sit with children and to explain what is going on.” Also, not all news channels are the same, BBC Newsround is constructed for children aged 8 to 14 in mind. It uses relatable language and gives the background to current news stories.
Alternatively, according to experts, you know your child is ready for some limited news exposure when they begin to ask you about the news they hear outside. “These are signs that a child is ready for some limited exposure, “says Jane Katch, author and child development expert. You do need to be careful that they are not exposed to stories and images that go viral for the wrong reasons.
Ways to Address News and Current Affairs
There’s a lot you can do as a parent to minimize the negative impact of watching the news. Below are some useful tips. Here we give some advice on having difficult conversations with your child as they will come up.
- Turn it off. Children Below the age of six struggle to differentiate between what’s in the news and in TV shows. Seeing pictures of other children in danger can be very disturbing to your child. They don’t need to deal with that. Let them remain kids. You should watch the news or read newspapers away from them. Your home needs to be a place where they feel entirely safe.
- Provide comfort. Trying to explain the probability of something not happening may not always have the intended effects. Probability doesn’t always rule out the possibility of natural disasters or catastrophic events. It just means there’s still a chance it could happen. Sometimes, it’s better to spend time with your child snuggling or find something cheerful to distract them with.
- Reiterate that the family is safe. Upon seeing terrible news, your child’s mind might convince them that it’s going to happen to their family. This is logical because if it happened to someone else, what’s to stop it from hitting close to home? To counter this logic, explain the measures in place that protect the family. Or draw their attention to the distance between where the event went down and where the family is. However, you need to do this without dismissing their fears.
- Help them filter. As mentioned previously, adults have a good grasp of how the media works. This helps adults filter news stories. Children lack this, so every news feels astronomical and immediate. Explain to your child that news houses are always in competition for viewers, motivating them to want to bring information that attracts more viewers.
- Encourage them to contribute to a solution. As humans, we all crave some form of control, especially when there’s chaos. A sense of control comes from doing something amidst the chaos. You can encourage your child to contribute to the relief effort for people affected by natural disasters. They can write to politicians, and attend meetings and protests.
- Be there to help them process. Children build their moral framework as they develop. When something happens in the news, children think of these things in binary. Grey areas rarely exist. Make yourself available to answer their questions and help them process their thoughts. It is essential to understand where they’re coming from before chipping in. Just like everybody else, children have existing beliefs, gleaned from their everyday interactions.
The Dangers of Overexposure on Children and Adolescents
Overexposure to news and other forms of media can have significant effects on both children and adolescents. Below are some of the effects of overexposure.
- They develop fright responses. Both children and teenagers develop fright responses from overexposure of violence on the news. According to a study led by Brad J. Bushman, a professor of communication at Ohio State University, children find news coverage of disasters far scarier than the violence they see on TV shows and movies. “We found that the children who thought they were seeing real events had significantly higher fright responses—they showed a greater emotional reaction—than those who believed they were watching a fictional show,” says Brad Bushman.
- They get a distorted perspective of the world. News houses spend a disproportionate amount of time bringing terrible news of happenings around the world. Persistent exposure to these kinds of information gives a child a distorted perspective of the world. There’s a sense that there’s disaster lurking everywhere. Without parents’ intervention, children can find themselves living in perpetual worry and anxiety.
- They’re prone to violence and aggressive behavior. Young people view an obscene amount of murder, rapes, and assaults on television. A National Television Violence Study investigated ten thousand hours of television programming. They found that 61 percent contained violence. These acts of violence involve guns, glamorized instead of frowned upon. This fosters violence and aggressive behavior among children and adolescents. Whereas teenagers can separate fiction from reality, news can blur this and change what ‘normal’ is in the same way as pornography can.
Final Thoughts on Developing Your Childs’s Interest in Current Affairs
Television is no longer the only place children can read current affairs. Regulating your child’s time in front of the television or newspaper is only half the job. You also have the internet to keep an eye on. With cell phones, your child can read as many news reports as they want with only a few clicks. Monitor your child’s usage of the internet and use parental controls where possible.