Falk College Professor Offers Advice on Addressing Recent News Stories With Kids
Given the violent incidents that have dominated the news lately, these can be trying times for parents who are trying to make sense of it all for their children. Much of it can be hard enough to process as an adult, but it can make youngsters question their safety and the safety of their loved ones. Ellen deLara, associate professor of social work at Falk College, has studied the issue and offers her thoughts on approaching difficult subject material.
Q: If my child asks about news coverage, how best to respond?
A: First, find a spot away from distractions so that you can truly listen and have a conversation. When children ask about a news story they have heard about or have witnessed on television, it is best to ask the question, “What would you like to know?” The reason for doing this is because adults either fail to answer the question the child has in mind or give too much information, more than the child wants or needs. When children begin to fidget excessively, drift off or just plain walk away, they have heard enough for now.
Q: Would the response be different based on the age of the child? Race of the child? Whether he or she is the child of a police officer?
A: Absolutely. Responses first need to match the child’s age and level of development. In other words, adolescents are able to understand a great deal more of what is going on—and may have encountered more experiences themselves—than little children. Little children are very concrete in their thinking. The most basic response with the fewest words typically will satisfy them.
Indeed, race is a critical factor in talking with children about community violence. African American parents, for example, have long known that they have to educate their children from a very young age, especially their boys, to be as respectful as possible and to avoid any appearance of trouble. The other aspect of race to take into account is that as parents of any race/ethnicity, we don’t want to be inculcating prejudice inadvertently by our explanations. It is critical to inform children that there are many differences among us and this is to be celebrated.
The child of a police officer should know that his/her mother or father goes out every day to protect everyone. They are heroes to their community. Sometimes, just like in any profession, there are people who are racist or who behave egregiously out of their own fear.
Q: Is it best to regulate/restrict TV viewing among young people, especially those who are troubled by what they are seeing?
A: It is best to restrict TV viewing for young children. These moments on television pervade their sensibility and create the feeling that they are not safe. It may create a general state of anxiety. It may be important to restrict viewing for tweens and young teens also if they seem to be obsessed with the news or if they appear to be have a continuous emotional reaction such as persistent crying, deep anxiety, depression or avoiding typical daily activities.
Q: What is the best way to make this a “teachable moment?”
A: Sadly, the events of the last several weeks are “teachable moments.” We, as adults, must make sure that we don’t ourselves ignore what is happening in our country. Ignoring, or falling back into stasis, is the typical response after tragedy in the U.S.
To make this a teachable moment to children, engage them in a conversation about what they can do (with their families, with their classmates) that will demonstrate caring. The range of what can be done is very broad, only limited by imagination. In my work, I have seen numerous instances in which one person, even a child, has made an impressive difference and increased awareness for many.