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.

Media Influence on Kids is Real

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 popular television programs and movies are rated to give parents warnings regarding their violent or sexual nature, only recently has this discussion included the news media which means content is not as regulated as it could be.
  • Despite such sensitive content, today’s news reports are aired 24-hours per day, many are in real-time and unfolding as they happen, and many of these same images are aired repetitively by multiple stations for days or even weeks at a time.
  • What’s worse is that the news content itself may not be entirely accurate. Often the news is sensationalized for ratings and not a true reflection of local, national, or international trends.
  • Unfortunately, children and teens are influenced by what they see on television. When they are chronically and repeatedly exposed to such content, studies have shown that they may accept such occurrences as the norm and ultimately will become desensitized.
  • Children may also copycat what they have seen, and can even display an increase in aggressive behaviors as a result.
  • When it comes to their cognitive development, children and teens are vulnerable to negative news broadcasts because they are still learning about the world around them. When exposed to repeatedly negative images they may form equally negative perceptions of society and even their own identities.
  • Moreover, these adverse news topics can be quite upsetting, and as a result children and teens may develop stress, anxiety, or fear.

What Parents Can Do To Help Their Kids Cope With Today’s Headlines

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:

  • Parents can monitor their children’s media consumption including the amount of time they spend on the internet. Reducing the number of hours spent watching television or surfing the web will reduce their overall amount of exposure. Even technology giant Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have admitted to limiting his own children’s onscreen time because of the violent nature of much of the content that is aired.
  • Also, watch the news with children and talk to them about what they have seen. Having such discussions as a family will give parents an opportunity to visit their family’s ideals and values. This can help the child filter their own understanding of the news and place it into a context that has greater meaning to them.
  • Lastly, pay close attention to the child’s behavior after they have watched the news. Are they exhibiting signs of fear such as crying, bed wetting, sleeplessness, signs of fear, or aggressiveness? Remember, protecting the child’s emotional and mental well-being are tantamount. Continue to talk with the child or teen and reassure him or her that they are safe and that the parent will be there to protect them. Depending on the child’s maturity level it may be best to not expose them to the news at all, wherever possible.

In Conclusion 

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.