In light of the awful earthquake that struck Haiti, and remembering other natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes and floods, I have been thinking about how much exposure of current global news is appropriate for young children. (I am speaking about children aged 5 and over)

We live in Istanbul, which is located along the North Anatolian Fault, so for obvious reasons we have tried to explain about "earthquakes" and what we should do if and when it occurs to our daughter. This is also taught at school with drills.

During a PTA meeting last year, I learnt that several parents did not allow their children to watch or hear about any news. This was rather surprising for me as we did watch segments of the news together with our daughter. We found that current general news was of interest to her, she would ask questions about the things we were watching and paved way for a kind of awareness and curiosity.

So my questions are;

  • Should children be made aware of both celebratory and catastrophic events to some extent?
  • Is it advisable for children to have limited exposure to the news(with parents) than to have no idea at all?

asked 17 Jan '10, 11:06

Emi's gravatar image

Emi
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Excellent question - I've always wanted to be a realistic, yet rational parent, but also know that little minds, when they don't quite understand something can distort or dwell...

(28 Jan '10, 04:01) YMCbuzz

Only you as a parent can decide that - and it's not a cut-and-dried choice.

I'm not aware of any long terms studies between children with a news heavy childhood vs children with a more controlled news childhood, so I can't help out empirically.

From our perspective, though, we have to treat each child differently to some degree, and since we still have small children who might become confused or scared we don't watch heavy news with any of them. Our youngest children have no real understanding of distance, partially because that's a hard thing to teach. When we go on a long car trip, we might say "it's a long way away" and when we see news reporting images of the earthquake we can try to say it's a very long way away, but I recall as a child thinking that wars were literally fought within driving distance, and being afraid.

Unfortunately the news media, as one of its goals, attempts to gain as large an audience as it can, which results in sensationalizing the existing news, and reporting on only that which will keep an audience around. "Learn about the three dangers of a product in your home right now!" "What you may not know about your next door neighbor, and how you can find out." "How the internet places your children in harm's way."

We find that much of the news we get today isn't important to our lives.

However, we let them know what's going on in the world by our actions and efforts.

"We're donating to the Red Cross to help people injured in an earthquake." "This can collection will go to those who don't have food in our city." "We're voting on whether we want to pay more taxes so you can have a new school when you're older."

As they get older we expand their horizon - the amount and degree of news they hear about. The 4 year old might hear that they are having difficulty getting good water in Haiti right now, while the 9 year old might be aware of me checking on our water storage, and help me fill new containers. It would be too easy for the 4 year old to connect the dots, and start worrying unnecessarily about us having an earthquake, because he might not be able to understand that preparation does not equal expectation. He does not always bring his concerns to us, so it can be difficult to help him understand something he's simply not ready for.

We don't want them to grow up in a walled garden, but we treat their mind the same way we treat their body - nursing before baby food, no honey until their immune system is developed, etc. Every child is different, though, so I don't think there's going to be a nice guide for this as there is with food.

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answered 17 Jan '10, 14:54

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Adam Davis
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+1 Nice answer, I didn't quite understand about the three dangers though. They are all things that we can control more or less??

(17 Jan '10, 18:50) Emi

Just an example news hook meant to get people to watch the news hour. It could be anything - they pick a topic, and then make a segment about how we need to know something important or we're unwittingly putting our family at risk. People are very susceptible to this type of advertising for the news hour.

(17 Jan '10, 19:10) Adam Davis

@Adam Davis Oh I see, yes that is exactly the type of scandalous news topics that we avoid.

(17 Jan '10, 21:36) Emi

I just want to add my (somewhat biased, so please see this as "IMHO") opinion:

Some US news media have a strong inclination towards sensationalism - I would recommend more "neutral" news sources. If you watch television news, I would take some minutes after watching it to talk with the child and to ask if (s)he understood everything, or has any questions.

If some science questions arise (how do earthquakes happen?) and you don't know the answer, maybe you can - together - research it on the internet, e.g. wikipedia.

A healthy interest in what's hapening around the world can be benefecial, but watching cops chase someone on the interstate... isn't.

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answered 17 Jan '10, 16:48

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brandstaetter
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+1 Definitely agree with more "neutral" news sources

(17 Jan '10, 17:37) Emi
1

I would agree, but I think we can do better than "because brandstaetter said so..." :) Please see http://moms4mom.com/back-it-up That book Scottie T pointed out recently seems to talk about avoiding the nightly news. She says to focus on making children feel safe, because then they can focus on learning rather than worrying.

(17 Jan '10, 17:39) Scott ♦♦

@Scott It certainly makes sense, but I also think a balance is also important, would it not be surreal if children did not worry about anything at all?

(17 Jan '10, 21:30) Emi
1

@Emi - I think children will worry about their stuff anyway (whether or not they get dessert tonight, etc.) but there are a lot of things that we, as adults, simply ignore that are really scary (the possibility of us dying horrifically in a car crash every day, that we could come down with a terminal illness any day, that twerp could fly a plane into your building today, etc.). We deal with it by ignoring stuff we can't change, but that's probably an acquired skill. Children don't need to know about it, and it could distract them from something meaningful. That was my point anyway. :)

(17 Jan '10, 21:39) Scott ♦♦

@Scott great examples, but if you look at the underlying possibilities of such a thing happening, they are relatively low; My opinion is that you can make the children feel safe and informed on what's going on in the world. Just don't overblow the scary stuff.

(18 Jan '10, 07:59) brandstaetter

@Scott & @branstaetter Scott you are very right, I have actually learnt to ignore stuff because thinking about it makes it worse. I think that the environments that we live in can also dictate a little to us. As you say brandstaetter, keeping them informed about the world is something thats should be done tactfully.

(18 Jan '10, 11:05) Emi
showing 5 of 6 show 1 more comments

I remember as a child seeing a picture of Tienenmen Square on the cover of Time Magazine and I remember hearing the word "Nicaragua" on the news a lot. I didn't understand what was going on at the time, but my parents did not shield me from the fact that there were bad things going on in the world. The first time I remember being aware of what was going on in another part of the world was with Desert Storm/the first Gulf War when I was about 9 or 10 years old. And even then I did not fully understand it but my parents did talk to me about it when I had questions.

That's pretty much the approach that I plan to take with my kids. I'm not going to completely shield them from what's going on out there. But at the same time I'm not going to lecture them on everything. If they have questions, I will do my best to help them understand what is going on.

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answered 17 Jan '10, 18:47

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mkcoehoorn
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+1 Somehow I feel this approach is healthy in the long run.

(17 Jan '10, 18:53) Emi

My older children were 8 and 10 on Sept. 11, and standing there in the living room with me watching live footage from New York when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I think all you can do is explain things at their level, reassure them all you can, answer their questions truthfully, and teach them to look for the helpers when they see disasters on the news (and let them know if you've donated money to help those helpers).
With something of that magnitude, we really couldn't shield them at all, even their friends were talking about it.

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answered 27 Jan '10, 07:35

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edited 27 Jan '10, 18:56

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lgritz
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We just discussed this same issue because my wife was wondering whether we should tell the children about the earthquake in Haiti. We decided to not do so because what's the point, honestly? They had never heard of Haiti before, don't have any context for earthquakes, and would just be worried about whether any buildings they inhabit could crumble similarly. In other words, there's really no positive that could come from learning of the devastation--at this point. If they were 10 or 12, things would be different but 6 and under is just too young to grasp the context.

My wife and I grew up markedly different: I was a voracious consumer of news while she was much more sheltered. Our worldviews in early adulthood was similarly contrasted: I was jaded while she was naive. I think that our childhoods were a primary factor in those adult attitudes and we want our children to come down somewhere in the middle. I wish I had retained some innocence growing up and she wishes she were a little better informed about events.

I have a book by Michael Medved entitled Saving Childhood that I've been meaning to read. The subject is precisely what the questioner is asking but I can't speak to its correctness or utility.

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answered 27 Jan '10, 17:04

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Asked: 17 Jan '10, 11:06

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Last updated: 27 Jan '10, 18:56