While my wife and I were flipping through channels this weekend we came across a news report about the shooting in Dallas. After a minute my wife nudged me and pointed out that the report also caught the attention of our 10-year-old. A part of me wanted her to see what’s going on in the world—right in our backyard, really. But, another voice in my head told me to change the channel, so I did.
The Dallas shooting. ISIS seemingly every day. I won’t get started on the two main presidential candidates. Seems like the bad news never ends. And my kids are starting to notice.
I admit it. I honestly don’t have an answer for this one, and I need your help. Do we let our kids see what’s going on in the world, or do we let them stay kids as long as possible? I believe there is strength in numbers, and as heaven knows we as parents need all the strength we can get. Just this morning I was reading a parenting book that said, “overprotection can result in the underdevelopment of children by depriving them of opportunities to solve their own problems.” So I should let my kids see all the bad stuff that happens in the news? On the other hand, I really, truly believe that kids grow up too fast and that there will be enough time in their lives to worry about bad things. I want them to stay kids for as long as possible. Thinking about them growing up is actually bringing tears to my eyes right now. But I still want them to have a firm grasp on reality. Can you see the conundrum here?
Research shows that children respond with fear, worry, and anger to scary stuff in the news. The same study showed that (1) limiting children’s exposure to such news has been shown to make things worse, and (2) talking to kids helps alleviate children’s emotional responses to scary news (although only for younger children and for children who only saw a little bit of the news). So, research would suggest that I allow my kids to watch the scary news and then to talk with them about it.
Now, I’m a stickler for research, but I’m having a hard time with this. I know what watching reports of shootings and bombings would do to my kids. They’d have trouble falling asleep. They’d have nightmares. They’d worry. And as long as I get to be their parent, I want to protect them. I also understand that no matter how much I try to protect their eyes from scary things, they’re going to see it anyway, at school or online or even just talking with friends. So, here’s where I am right now, for better or for worse—I’ll talk about scary stuff in the news with my kids if they bring it up or if I know they’ve seen something that I think could bother them. Otherwise, I’d like to help them believe the world is safe (while, of course, having the necessary conversations about stranger danger, etc.). I want them to be kids, and to not have to worry about adult problems until they are, well, more adult-ish.
I wish I had better advice—I am a doctor in this stuff. But I’m also a parent with all the emotions and instincts that brings. Am I right? Am I wrong? What do you think?