Before I became a dad, I remember casually taking mental notes of the parenting methods used by my friends and family. Some things they did made sense. But there were other things I knew that, when I had children of my own, I would never do. And in some instances, I didn’t quite understand what their thinking was.
Naturally, I just chalked the latter up to me “not getting it” because I didn’t have kids.
In particular, whenever I would visit one cousin, I noticed she would immediately change the TV channel if the news came on when her young boys were in the room. To be honest, it was kind of annoying because, being a news junkie, I wanted to watch. After a few times of this happening, I couldn’t take it anymore and asked why she did it.
Her response was simple: she didn’t want her kids watching the news and seeing and hearing about some of the bad things going on in the world. Not yet at least.
Logically it made sense. However, I wasn’t a parent then, so my brain heard that reasoning as “sheltering.” I even told my wife about it, confidently declaring those boys wouldn’t be ready for the “real world” as they got older.
Little did I know that now, with a 4-year-old son and 17-month-old daughter, I’d be doing the same thing. If we’re all sitting around with the TV on and the news comes on, I grab the remote. I quickly flip over to the Disney Channel, YouTube or CoComelon.
It’s funny how your outlook on life shifts once you become a parent.
Science on kids watching news
Unfortunately, in today’s age, most lead stories on the news are either related to violence, death, politics, vehicle accidents, or something bad going on with the weather. It’s very rare newscasts open with a “good” story. That’s not something I want the kids consuming. It took me becoming a parent to understand the importance of monitoring what they’re exposed to. It’s something I’m sure my cousin had to learn with her sons. And I learned from them.
Some research and children’s health professionals support this thinking.
A 2003 study published in the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry found that kids living within 100 miles of a terrorist attack (in this case, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 terrorist attacks) who spent a lot of time watching news coverage of the event reported more symptoms related to trauma. A 2020 article in American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes that research has shown children and adolescents are prone to “copycat” what they see and hear in the news.
“Chronic and persistent exposure to such violence can lead to fear, desensitization (numbing), and in some children an increase in aggressive and violent behaviors,” according to the AACAP article.
Preserving childhood innocence
The innocence of children is a breath of fresh air. It’s a welcome change of pace from the problems we adults deal with on a daily basis. As I watch my kids every day running around, playing and screaming without a care in the world, it’s devastating to me to know that they’ll be affected by what they see, hear and read on the news. Even worse, I’m frightened by what they may experience themselves when they’re out of my sight.
But I know a day will come when my children realize every day is not games, snacks and laughter. They will encounter people who are mean and purposely try to hurt their feelings. And I will have to explain to them the realities of the world.
I want my son to think the world is this fun, magical world for as long as he can. I want my daughter to always giggle and smile like she does when we play “peek-a-boo.” Those are luxuries I wish I had as an adult. But as it goes with parenting, deciding when to expose your kids to watching the news and dealing with the subsequent conversations that will come when they start asking questions, is yet another thing I’ll have to face in fatherhood.
Until then, we’ll just watch CoComelon over and over and over again.
More about children and the news
For more information on this subject, read:
- How to Talk to Your Child About the News, Nemours Kids Health
- Helping Your Child Cope with Media Coverage of Disasters: A Fact Sheet for Parents, University of Missouri/National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- Should you let your child watch the news?, Superpower Kids
- What to Tell Your Children about School Shootings, Center for Parent and Teen Communication