“My 11-year-old daughter doesn’t like watching the news. She often has nightmares about what she has seen. One time, she watched a report about a person who decapitated a family member. That night she dreamed that she too was being decapitated.”—Quinn.
“My six-year-old niece saw reports of tornadoes from elsewhere in the country. For weeks afterward, she was terrified. She would call me on the phone, convinced that a tornado was coming her way and that she was going to die.”—Paige.
DO NEWS reports frighten your child? In one survey, nearly 40 percent of parents said that their children had been upset by something they saw in the news and that, as a result, the children had feared that a similar event would happen to them or their loved ones.
Why? One factor is that children often interpret the news differently from adults. For example, small children may believe that a tragedy that is broadcast repeatedly is really happening repeatedly.
A second factor is that daily reports of disturbing events can distort a child’s view of the world. True, we live in “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) But repeated exposure to disturbing news reports can cause children to develop immobilizing fears. “Children who watch a lot of TV news tend to overestimate the prevalence of crime and may perceive the world to be a more dangerous place than it actually is,” observes the Kaiser Family Foundation.
If disturbing news reports are affecting your children, what can you do? Here are a few suggestions.
Based on the age, maturity, and emotional makeup of your children, consider setting limits on the amount of exposure they have to the news. Of course, in our information age, children are not ignorant of current events. Even little children may see or hear more than you realize. Therefore, be alert to any signs of fear or anxiety that your children may display.
As your children get older, consider watching the news with them. In that setting, you can use the news as an opportunity to teach. Try to emphasize any positive aspects of a report—for example, relief efforts being made to help victims of some disaster.
When a disturbing event is reported, draw out your children to find out how they feel about what happened. “My wife and I take the time to explain to our son, Nathaniel, what he has seen on the news, as well as what precautions we’ve taken to avoid the same tragedy ourselves,” says a father named Michael. “One time, when Nathaniel saw news footage of a house burning to the ground, he feared that our home would be next. To comfort him, we showed him all the smoke alarms in our house. He knows where they are and why they’re there. That helped him feel secure.”
Researchers have found that people tend to judge the likelihood of an event by the ease with which examples of that event come to mind. For instance, if you recently heard that a child was abducted, you are likely to conclude that the threat to your child is greater than it is. Of course, it is good to be aware of potential dangers. Nevertheless, experts say that media reports can make us fear events that will probably never happen to us.—Proverbs 22:3, 13.
If parents fail to maintain a balanced perspective of the news, they could take fears to an extreme. So could their children. For example, in 2005 an 11-year-old boy got lost in the mountains of Utah in the United States. He was so afraid of kidnappers that he hid from his rescuers for four days. When rescue workers finally found the child, he was weak and dehydrated. Even though the odds of being taken by a stranger were about 1 in 350,000, the boy’s fears led him to risk starvation rather than accept help.
“Children ages 3-7 are more frightened by stories of natural disasters and accidents, whereas older children ages 8-12 are more scared by stories about crime and violence.”—Kaiser Family Foundation
The lesson? Make sure that you and your children maintain a balanced perspective of the news. The fact is, many calamities are viewed as newsworthy because they are relatively rare—not because they are common.
Crime, violence, and natural disasters are tragic realities of our times. As we have seen, however, your efforts to protect, educate, reassure, and provide a balanced perspective will help your children cope with disturbing reports.