How Our Kids Are Affected By What They See And Read In The News

 Please join us in welcoming Amy Williams to the blog this week. She has written this thought provoking article about how to handle news with our children. This is a topic that can be challenging, but is so important in order to form our children to think for themselves and be conscientious, well formed adults. As Maria Montessori put it: “We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.” (Education for a New World, p. 69).

Growing up, we often watched the six o’clock news as a family while we waited for dinner. We were greeted nightly by the likes of Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw. Their familiarity, calm voices, and warm deliveries often made these news anchors feel like they were part of our family. Back then, maybe due to nostalgia or young naivety, many of us didn’t fear tuning into the news or reading the paper. Fast forward a few years and many of us now dread viewing the headlines, notifications, and social media posts.

Far too often, the news feels ladened with negativity. According to some psychologists, like Dr. Graham Davey, there may be a correlation between alarming increases in anxiety levels with today’s online culture and news media. It does make sense, today’s media greets us with stories about terrorism, bullies, and violence on a daily basis. As parents, we might find ourselves questioning how reading and watching the news is affecting our children.

Understanding the News’ Impact on Our Kids’ Emotions

Research hailing from Common Sense Media, has unearthed almost two-thirds of our kids feel depressed, upset, and frightened after viewing news media. They also discovered that tweens and younger adolescents reported these feelings more than our older children. There are a variety of factors at play here, but we need to focus on a child’s mental maturity and their limited abilities to comprehend very adult subjects. For parents, these statistics can be difficult to rationalize.

Our first instinct is to limit a child’s exposure to all political madness, societal turmoil, and violence. Afterall, we want to keep our sons and daughters safe and protected. Shielding our boys and girls from all doom and gloom seems logical, but we should question the effectiveness of this strategy. Ultimately, we want to raise kids who are able to live, thrive, and improve the world they were born into.

Thankfully, we have hope. The same research also found 70 percent of the children surveyed admitted to feeling smarter after reading or watching the news. Even if the news media is scary or uncomfortable, exposure to current events and news empowers our kids. This data shows that it is important for us to allow our children access to age-appropriate news outlets to prevent feelings of fear and anxiety, while building confidence and knowledge.

6 Key Strategies to Help Kids Navigate the News

The good news is that we have the ability to help our children make sense of the world with reassurance and some good old fashioned guidance. To help reduce the negative impact of today’s news, we have compiled the following tips:

Demonstrate how to differentiate between reliable sources and fake news. Today this can be difficult, especially with the influx of social media. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one-fourth of us have actually shared posts and articles online to only find out they were fake. And our kids are no exception.

Make sure to teach how to fact check and question sources. Many sensational stories are created with the sole purpose to alarm and stir strong emotions in readers. By showing kids how to weed out questionable articles, they can feel empowered, in control, and calmer.

Build trust within the family. In the Common Sense Media study, they also found kids will believe news that comes from family members. If we want informed kids, we need to make sure they are being given the correct information. This also provides us with the perfect opportunity to begin discussions, listen to their concerns, and help reduce any fears they express.

Avoid over explaining. We know our kids want to be informed, but sometimes the news is too complicated or contains inappropriate content for them to grasp. We should strive to keep our explanations simple, using vocabulary at their level to help understand the main idea. Often kids are fine with a brief explanation and don’t need complicated details.

Look for kid friendly media and news sources. Through the innocent eyes of our children, news can be downright terrifying and difficult to process as they attempt to make sense of the chaotic world around them. Instead of relying on adult centered news, look for outlets that are created specifically for keeping children and teens informed. Consider the Smithsonian’s Tween Tribune or PBS Newshour Extra.

Make them feel safe. It’s no secret that today’s news can cause fear and anxiety. Remind children that they are safe and loved. It’s important for us to remain calm and level headed, because our kids will feed off our emotions. Encourage kids to talk about their feelings and answer their questions calmly to help erase any fears they might have.

How does your family deal with children and today’s news media?

Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety. Follow her on twitter: @AmyKWilliams1

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