Over the years I’ve babysat my two nieces from time to time to give my brother and his wife a break on the weekends. I recall how a few years ago as they were playing in an adjacent room I decided to relax on the sofa and channel surf. As habit would have it, I resolved to watch the local news channel, where guest commentators were participating in a heated political discussion. I didn’t even notice when my youngest niece peaked her head around the corner and asked, “Why are those people mad at each other?” I then tried my best to explain to her that sometimes adults just don’t agree with one another when it comes to political topics. After a few moments and with a concerned look, she seemed to accept my explanation and then went back to play with her sister.
Looking back, it really surprised me that even at such a young age she was aware that something was not quite right with the conversation that was being played out on the news. In hindsight, all of the political mud-slinging did indeed sound like a full-blown argument. Media influence on children is not to be taken lightly. From that point on I have been more mindful of what I have playing on the television when they come to visit, or in the vicinity of any children for that matter.
Today, on average, children and adolescents spend about 34 hours per week consuming television. Much of this time is spent consuming stories covered by traditional news outlets. Children and teens may also spend many hours reading news stories they have located on the internet. Unfortunately, this news coverage can include topics on criminal activities, violence, wilfully wrong interpretations, natural disasters and other catastrophes from around the world. So, how exactly is this impacting your children’s mental well-being?
While there are many inherent advantages to allowing children and teens to watch television, including educational programming, there are also many downsides as well. Here are some of the ways in which your child may be affected by what they see, hear, and read on the news:
Even though media influence on kids can be massive, there are many actions that parents and other caregivers can take to protect their children from such influences. Such preventative measures include:
As an increasingly digital era where the latest news stories are as easy to access as the simple click of a button, it is very likely that children may be exposed to sensitive topics that can have a real impact on their welfare. Even though watching television and consuming the news is a common pastime in many households, there are many cognitive, emotional, and social effects to repeatedly viewing negative news content. Parents can take proactive measures to lessen the effects of the news media when it comes to their children’s well-being. With the proper guidance and controls in place, parents can reduce the negative implications of the news on their children’s welfare and achieve better outcomes for the entire families.
Hilary Smith is a parent and writer working with Teensafe.com, a company that specializes in helping parents of teens and navigate the challenges of digital parenting.