Talking to your children about tragedies they may see on television

Boy scared while watching TV violence

As a nation, we’ve seen violence in all forms take place on television—some with warning, and some without. The shootings of two reporters in Virginia in 2015 and the tragedies that occurred on 9/11 are examples of what you and your family may witness while watching live television.

More recent events that exposed viewers to violence on television include protests in Charlottesville, Va., and the recent chaos in Spain involving a driver plowing a truck into a crowd. Frequent replays of this news footage often comes with a warning, so it’s up to viewers whether they want to continue viewing. But, for those watching live there is a risk of what might be seen, and it can be troubling for anyone—including young kids.

Advice for talking with kids about violent acts

Michael Weinberg, a senior manager in behavioral health services at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Ariz., offers some advice about talking to your kids if they’ve seen or heard about violent events in the media. He mentioned that it’s important for children to express how they feel if they’ve been exposed to these situations.

“What you tell a 6-year-old would likely sound very different from what you say to a 14-year-old. A good place for parents to begin is by asking children questions to gauge what they know, how they may be feeling, and what they may be thinking about,” Weinberg said.

He added that the answers provided by children will help parents decide where they need to direct the conversation.

Regardless of whether the news footage is live or taped, kids can be caught watching events like these unfold, even before parents realize their children have been exposed to something potentially damaging. Before digital media came into play, kids were mainly exposed to these kinds of elements on television and in newspapers, so shielding them from the violence was a bit less challenging.

Immediate access to video

But today’s culture is a bit different. Now that most everyone has access to cell phones or tablets that can play live video at the touch of their fingertips, there’s a greater possibility for kids to be more exposed to the reality of real-life violence. While parents can still shield their children from violence, today’s culture of electronic media can make things a bit more challenging.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, in a published article, parents should be aware of the media their child is watching, and should co-view media with their kids. The AAP also recommends that parents should monitor all virtual violence, especially if their children are under the age of 6 years, because kids that young can’t always distinguish fantasy from reality.

While television and other media can provide some entertainment, it’s important that parents know when to turn it off.

This post was originally published on Sept. 14, 2015.

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