Helping Children Avoid Viral Stories

Helping Children to Avoid Viral Stories

Helping children to avoid viral stories is difficult in the time of mobile phones. With social media and entertainment websites it is really hard to make sure that they are put in context. In January 2020, a photographer released a shot of a newborn kangaroo charred to its death against a barbed wire fence, during a futile effort to escape the Australian bushfires. You may remember the picture: the burnt remnants of the joey’s arms wrapped around the fence, its head peeping through a crack, clinched teeth standing out pale white against the grey body and post-apocalyptic landscape. 

The picture went viral, spreading like wildfire through people’s gadgets, bringing them to worry and grieve over an incident a globe away. There are also more damaging examples such as the murder of George Floyd in the US, the murder of Sarah Everard in the UK, school shootings and some of the shocking images around climate breakdown. 

When we were young, these things were often limited to the news on TV and then we could move on. Doomscrolling, or the act of searching through your phone looking for more negative news is a phenomena that I have been guilty of. The continuous exposure definitely means these feel extremely tangible and current to us now. It is essential that our children are aware of current affairs and what is going on in the world. However, it can be overwhelming, especially if they do not have emotional intelligence to filter out the relative risk. Also with social media, images and stories are no longer filtered or fact checked.

Is It Possible to Stop Your Child Seeing Them?

Trying to stop your child accessing sites on social media is not possible. With the algorithms that these sites use to generate more content for you it makes it even harder to help your child to avoid viral stories. This is because once a story is interacted with, more of the same are forwarded to the phone. The most upsetting example of the danger of these algorithms is that of self-harm and suicide.

As a result it is necessary to make sure that you are aware what your child is looking at. Also that in the evenings if they disappear with their phones to their room you know what is going on.

The most powerful thing you can do is make sure that your child has a relationship where they can speak to you if there is something that worries them rather than searching. It is understandable that if they hear about rape they may feel uncomfortable talking to you but want to know more. As a parent, they trust you fully. It is also good to surround them with balanced news. For example watching the news on TV or a newspaper so that they can see a balanced view and allow you to have conversations around this. Finally talk to them about what is good reporting and what is sensationalisation.