When I was very young, The News on television was 15 minutes long. It consisted of one very serious grownup reporting a 10-minute summary of the day’s events, some sports scores, and 5 minutes of a more jovial guy predicting the next day’s weather. There were some photographs and a few short films but it was all very brief and matter of fact because most people read 2 newspapers a day—morning and evening editions—and that was enough. If my parents spoke about The News at dinner they were careful about what they discussed in front of their children. They were careful to shield us from the very bad news and the violent words that described it.
Then in the early 1960s there was a long newspaper strike of all NYC papers and within a few months everything changed. The News Shows were expanded to 30, and then 60 minutes and the serious grownups developed big personalities who chatted and made jokes. The News on T.V. became major form of entertainment, advertised itself constantly, and thus was impossible to avoid.
So now it is 2016 and the world is different in every way but there is one thing that is the same: the world is still filled with young children who need to be shielded from the very bad news and the violent words that describe it. And their older siblings, who will hear about frightening events, need to have these events discussed, age-appropriately, in careful language, by adults they trust. They need to be assured and reassured that they are loved and will be protected and cared for, again and again.
The parents of today need to work extra hard to protect their kids from the media. There are so many devices to be aware of! Aside from the smart phone, the radio, and TV in their homes there are screens everywhere and they are almost always broadcasting news. And when our children hear and see News that is upsetting we need to talk to them and help them sort it out, no matter how unpleasant it feels to us. Otherwise they could distort and misunderstand, thinking that a re-play of an event is it actually happening again. Confusion can cause a growing fear that we are not aware of until a frightening dream or other symptom of anxiety emerges.
So keep the TV and radio news turned off. If you know your child has heard frightening news stories make a point of discussing this news simply and clearly, emphasizing how you will always be protective. And don’t forget to repeat how much love you feel for him or her, over and over and over.
I’ve put together a list of education resources about children and the news. It is my hope that this information will help you have a meaningful conversation with your family about the news.
“News and Children” — A guide for parents from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
“How to Protect Your Kids From Violent Images in the Media” — A video from the Center for Media and Child Health
Patricia Burrows, LCSW is a psychoanalyst, treating children and adults in Westport, Connecticut. Her work is based on the teachings of Heinz Kohut and Donald Winnicott, emphasizing the development of a strong sense of self and healthy interpersonal relationships through the use of active listening and empathic, mirroring responses. She is also Co-founder and Clinical Consultant to LiveKind.org.