A lot of grandparents grew up watching the Vietnam War unfold on the nightly news. Today’s parents watched the horrors of Columbine and 9/11 as they burned themselves into our country’s fabric. But today’s news feels different. With our 24/7 news cycle, only exacerbated by social media, how do parents talk to kids about what is happening in the world without causing them to feel overwhelmed? How do you navigate the natural disasters, impending wars, and mass shootings that seem to happen all the time?
Keeping our kids informed while also allowing them to have an actual childhood feels like walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. With children making up a significant portion of the online presence in our country, we know they are seeing news content from all over the globe. With everything at our fingertips, even adults are beginning to feel overwhelmed. Is it possible to raise kids who are knowledgeable without making them feel stressed about the world around them?
It’s time for a talk
Communicating with our kids is more important now than ever. Even though our tweens and teens would rather be anywhere else than having a deep conversation with their parents, it is vital to keep the line of communication open. Choose a time to spend one-on-one with your child. If there has been a big news story lately, take the time to ask if they have heard about it and how they are feeling. Ask if they are talking about current events in school and what their thoughts are on a specific topic. Having a conversation with your child will not only help you to understand what they are thinking about the world, but it will help them learn to be a good communicator as well.
Need more guidance?
Having a hard conversation about something big that is happening in the world is not easy, and some people may feel uncomfortable sharing violent news stories with their children. If you are feeling queasy at the thought of telling your kids about the many atrocities of our modern world, these guidelines can help:
Consider your child’s age and let them lead the way.
Most children realize that the news is real by the time they are about 7 or 8. Younger children won’t be able to recognize the difference between fact and fantasy. However, each child is different, so take time before you have a conversation to understand what your kid is capable of. Also, if your child seems uninterested in the current event or doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t push them. Drop it for today and bring it up again later.
Answer questions briefly and honestly.
Keeping your child’s age in mind, answer questions without sugar coating anything. That doesn’t mean spilling all the details, though. Keep things simple and brief. Calm your child’s fears by reminding them as you are answering their questions that they are safe. And remember that it is always ok to say you don’t know the answer.
Help your child feel in control.
If your child appears afraid of what is going on, ask about it directly. Talk about what you can do to help them feel safe or to understand more about the situation. You can also put news stories into context by broadening the conversation. Use an event as a platform to talk about helping others, cooperation, and the ways that people can cope with hardships. Help kids feel prepared rather than panicked by talking about what measures are present in school and at home to keep your kids and family safe.
Along with helping your kids feel prepared to tackle the world, as a parent part of your job is to protect them. That doesn’t mean we want them to be ignorant, but let’s face it: They don’t need to feel the weight of the world on their tiny (but mighty!) shoulders. Limit your kid’s exposure to the news by first deciding how much is appropriate for their viewing. This will be based on their age and maturity level. Encourage your child to take breaks in reading the news, especially if topics are difficult.
Remember, your child may want to see everything and be very curious about all the world’s events. This is great, but too much can cause an increase in stress and anxiety. Today’s 24/7 news cycle is hard for adults, so it is going to be even more difficult for children. Teach your child that being in the present moment and enjoying their childhood is just as important as being in the know about current events. Watch for signs of stress and help them create good habits in which they are informed without being overwhelmed.