For a long time now, I have had the luxury of receiving the newspaper on the weekends on my front stoop. I enjoy reading the weekend paper in ink, on paper, while I drink coffee – not just catching the headlines in my email, or listening to the news in the car. But when the paper started printing its front-page images in color….well, I started to make sure I got there before the kids and hid the images! More and more often, there are pictures of dead bodies, explosions, guns on that front page, and the graphics are enough to give me nightmares. Seems like the news should come with a rated “R” warning.
Unfortunately, unlike an old-fashioned movie theater where kids can be kept out of an R-rated movie, the world comes right up into our homes these days and the information is rarely appropriate for children.
So, what do you do? What should you tell them? Here are a few guidelines:
- Protect where you can. Though hiding my newspaper may seem silly, we should be careful about how much exposure kids get. After the 911 terrorist attacks, many children who saw the towers falling on TV repeatedly later presented with PTSD symptoms, even though they had not themselves been downtown. Turn-off your TV news, turn off the radio, monitor what they see online. Less is more.
- Talk to them. You can’t protect them fully, so you have to talk to your kids about what they do hear and see.
- Ask questions. What have they been hearing at school, or from friends? Did they hear that Louis CK was in the news, or Judge Roy Moore? If so, what do they think about it? Are they worried about the truck that drove into some people on the henry hudson walkway?
- Provide straightforward answers.
- For questions about sexual harassment, try something like this: “Sometimes a man may try to touch a woman without her permission, but that is wrong. Everyone has the right to their own body space. You should always ask someone before you touch them, and if you don’t want someone to touch you, you should say no. If you are not sure, you can always come and talk to me.”
- For questions about violence, try something like this: “Sometimes, when people are very angry and confused, they try to hurt other people, and sometimes when people disagree they may also try to hurt each other. That is why it is so important to talk things out, instead of fighting with our bodies or weapons.”
- Stay Calm. Remember, you will always have more opportunities to communicate with your children. They may express things that upset you, or seem wrong, but that’s ok. If you are listening to them, you can teach them your values, correct their misunderstandings, and help them feel safe. At the end of the day, remember that you are the grown-up and they will take their cues from you. If you act like things are going to be ok, they will feel like things are going to be ok.