When there is nothing but fear and worry in the news
Updated: Jan 27, 2021
This blog post was originally published by the Children's Screen-Time Action Network as part of their newsletter on January 22nd 2021. Please click here to view the original post. Thank you for inviting me to be a guest blogger CSTAN!
Over the past few weeks, many mental health and child advocacy organizations have released resources to help parents speak with their children about alarming, violent, and worrying news. In last week’s newsletter, director Jean Rogers wrote about supporting children through a crisis and shared some additional tips from experts at Defending the Early Years, an organization closely aligned with the Action Network’s own vision and mission.
I find this question to be an incredibly important one – especially in this age of tech hyperconnectivity – but there’s a question I find to be equally, if not even more important: how do we address our children's emotions in the face of terrifying news? Life has made it so that I am well-positioned to speak on this question because, for one, I specialize in emotional intelligence and have a TEDx Talk on embracing all our emotions through emodiversity, but more importantly, I am a Third Culture Kid and growing up, both of my home countries experienced war and unrest throughout my childhood.
As a young child in the 80s and 90s, I can easily and vividly recall innumerable family scenes of news watching; even now, the early part of my day is spent catching up on world news, and I believe the reason is that, within my primary family unit, this was one of our most important and unifying family activities.
I keep repeating the word “family” here very much on purpose, as consuming information that was often overwhelming to us all (regardless of age) was never a solitary activity. Not for us children, that is certain. This activity was always done together, as a group, as a collective, as a microcommunity that would feel the fear, anger, worry, despair as one organism, and process it as such too.
I have been asked before whether I have any lingering “trauma” because I was exposed to a fair amount of unsettling – and certainly inappropriate – content when I was young. While I am the first to say that us “children of the previous decades” were most definitely allowed to consume too much media with insufficient filtering and regulation, I can also honestly say that yes, those memories are colored by sadness, but they are not traumatic. It was not foreign (or embarrassing) to see my parents or relatives cry, to see them express compassion and empathy for those who were suffering, to see resilience in action and witness how they tried their absolute best to cope and assure us children that no matter what, no matter how hard it got, we would find the resources to persevere somehow.
It brings tears to my eyes to type this now – even so many years later – but that is what having a front seat to that experience allowed me to do; it allowed me to feel all the feels and express them all too. Every expression of a big emotion was followed by a hug and a reassuring conversation, one that let me know that no matter what I was feeling, it was not nearly as scary as I thought because the adults were there to help figure it out together.
I want to end this piece on one positive practical note. Aside from the strategies I offer you below, I also want to remind you that while consuming difficult and scary news is easier to do collectively, it is important to do the same with positive and uplifting news also. Many American families were looking forward to and celebrated Inauguration Day earlier this week, a perfect opportunity to share a moment of hope and rebirth with your children and remind them that it is not just doom and gloom on our screens all day. Whatever constitutes positive news for your own family and is in line with your own values, be sure to share it and revel together in the positive emotions it elicits – emotions such as awe, gratitude, hope, calm, and zest.
"And keep in mind: when positive emotions are shared they become more powerful; when negative emotions are shared they subside." Teodora Pavkovic
Here are a few of my Strategies for Healthy Digital Media Consumption for Your Family:
Accumulating information doesn’t help us handle it better; in fact, it often backfires through “information obesity” and “doomscrolling.” Get your daily highlights from your trusted news source, and then stay away from the news for the next 24 hours
If your child has their own device or has access to any of yours, make sure that they don’t consume the news alone. This is especially true if you have children of middle school age or younger.
My previous statement notwithstanding, prepare for when a “news breach” does happen, because in today’s world of easy digital access it is highly likely to. Notice if your child seems withdrawn or excessively worried of late – or if their behavior suddenly changes in other ways – and ask them about any disturbing content they may have come across. Let them know you are there to listen and to help them process that information.
Both social media and YouTube have become a central source of news for teenagers. There is no easy fix for this, but what you can do is maintain an open conversation with your teen and keep checking in with them about what their world of digital reality looks like.
With best wishes for a year filled with good news,
P.S. If you are interested in being part of a collaborative community built around the same purpose, head over to the CSTAN website and find out more about our Work Groups - I serve as the co-chair of the Parenting Professionals Working Group.