Helping Kids Make Sense of TV News
TV news can be scary for kids. Here’s how parents can turn coverage of upsetting stories into opportunities for learning.
Children who hand over the TV remote to Mom or Dad during the evening news hour often wind up watching, too. Many parents worry about the unsettling stories and graphic images their little ones may see. Thankfully, parents can limit kids’ exposure to upsetting news coverage. They can also use the news to teach positive lessons and educate their children.
Keeping a watchful eye
Parents can help kids make sense of an event that they hear about, understand how it affects their lives and figure out what they can do about it.
Limit your child’s exposure to news and other television programs about tragic events. If you do choose to let your child see this information on TV, keep it brief, watch it together and talk to your child afterwards to help make the information clear.
Make TV news meaningful
Kids can learn from the news if parents know how to use it as a tool.
- Start a discussion. Ask, “What do you think about that story? Did you understand what we just watched?” Broaden the discussion from a disturbing news item to a larger conversation that touches on your child’s views of the situation.
- Don’t wait for the TV news to bring up an issue or event. Discuss current events with your child on a regular basis. Help children think through stories they hear about.
- Be honest and reassuring. Show that certain events are isolated or explain how one event relates to another. This helps a child make better sense of what he or she hears. If your child asks if tragedy may affect your lives, answer truthfully but reassure your child that you and other adults work hard to reduce risks. Explain, for example, that you keep fresh batteries in the smoke detectors in case of a fire and you have a family escape route.
- Emphasize positive aspects of a tragic event. Talk about key issues and different ways to address the problems. Whether kids hear about a gas line explosion, an earthquake or a flood, it’s important they hear about how well the public, the police, emergency medical technicians and fire departments respond. Also focus on how strangers help each other in times of need.
- Follow up on a news story by reading newspapers or magazines together. TV news coverage may lack depth, details and analysis. If your child is interested in a topic, use more detailed articles to highlight information that wasn’t discussed on the news.
Control news overload
Protect children from re-exposure to traumatic events by limiting exposure to adult conversations about the events. Even when you think kids are not listening, they often are. Many parents find it helpful to record the news and watch it after their children have gone to bed.
Look for public television programs, newspapers or news magazines geared for children, too. These outlets often offer less sensational and upsetting coverage.