The terrorism coverage, like kids cartoons, has become addictive. Many hours of TV bring the horrors of terrorism into our home. Parents need to be concerned about the possible effect this non-stop coverage might have on children. Even more importantly, what can parents do to ease a childs fear?
Not long ago, the National Association for the Education of Young Children issued a warning about media violence. They went on record as condemning violent television programming, movies, videotapes, and computer games.
What is particularly dangerous in the present situation is the apparent innocence or matter-of-factness of the TV programming. The nightly news or the network news brief carries the violent programming. Its not the hour long sitcom or weekly shoot-em-up program.
Research has shown time and time again that violence on TV is not healthy for developing children. Three problems are associated with heavy viewing of violence on television.
1. Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of those around them. Simply put, children who view heavy doses of violence just "get used to it."
2. Children may become more fearful of the world around them if they view lots of TV violence.
3. Viewing large amounts of TV violence leads many children to act in an aggressive or harmful manner. Meanness and fighting tend to increase.
Sometimes the effects of TV violence are immediate. A few years ago one mother told of her 13-year-old son, who sat watching the news from the Gulf. He observed the close-up bombing raids and the effects of the high-tech bombs. Immediately he switched on a video game and proceeded to continue the "bombing raids." "It was frightening" the mother said, "It was almost like the Gulf and his game were the same."
Parents have a tough job. On the one hand most parents want their children to be interested. Most want their children to have human concern. This is best achieved by keeping up-to-date and watching the news programs. On the other hand, children can get too much real life violence and suffer some of the problems mentioned before, like being fearful of the world. Balancing these two is difficult. If different age children are present its even touchier.
Parents can help their children understand and understanding will help minimize the effect of violence on TV.
View the news together. Talk about what is happening. Often children have incomplete or false ideas about what they are seeing. They dont understand the newsperson who is explaining an event. Get out a globe or large map. Most libraries have a globe, so do schools. Use the globe to show your child where the terrorism was and where he lives. A child may fear a plane will drop on his house.
If the child is afraid, and many are, talking helps. Allow the child to talk. Parents should make time to listen. Try to figure out what the child is afraid of. Help the child understand what she is afraid of and help her find the difference between fantasy and reality. One child, whose house is near an airport, screamed out when an airplane came over his house. His father calmly admitted that the sound of an airplane could be scary. They also talked about all the hundreds of planes that had gone over before. "They are landing at the airport. This one you heard landed just like all the others. Tomorrow, you and I will drive by the airport and try to see the plane that landed. Now, you go back to sleep."
Parents also need to monitor the amount of news watching children actually do. If parents allow children to freely turn on the television, then careful monitoring is necessary.