real life

Do you let your kids watch the nightly news?

Go on, do a quick Google search. You’ll soon find a few of the samples of what the news is serving up today. I found: “NY woman helps track suspect in dad’s killing”; “Clashes in Istanbul extend into night”; “Santa Monica gunman was mentally evaluated”; “Accused lifeguard basher gets jail”; “Granddaughter abuser loses appeal”. Is it any wonder that the answer to the headline of this story for me is a resounding “NO! Are you crazy?”

With a five-year-old and a two-year-old in residence, we never have the nightly news on anymore. For us it’s just a minefield not worth navigating.

Having said that, in this day and age with all the handheld media devices and radio news in the car (not to mention playground natter) it would be incredibly naïve of anyone to try to shield their children from all bad news. That’s life. You can deal with explaining each and every piece of news as it comes to your child’s attention in a simple way that hopefully minimises fear and anxiety for them. Please don’t misunderstand me – I by no means wish to raise my children in a bubble. I give them the facts if and when they need them while minimising their exposure to bad news when possible.

Case-in-point. About three months ago my five-year-old asked me if I could please buy him a toy gun. My immediate response was an unmitigated “No way,” pronounced in my firm, no-compromise Mummy voice that usually elicits a follow up round of “but pleeeeeease Mummy”, “why not”, and so on and so forth. I measured my words carefully and shot back: “Because guns are not toys and I don’t believe they should be treated as toys.” Of course, with all the never-say-die enthusiasm of a five-year-old he said “But whhhhhyyyyy?” I re-loaded and fired back with “Because guns are very dangerous. They kill people.” Now that silenced him (which if you know my son is practically impossible). And yes, I note my gun-inspired puns…

I watched him in the rearview mirror as he sat and pondered my words for a while. Then he looked at me with the all the certainty of a worldly boy his age and said “Yes Mummy, but just to kill the baddies.” In his eyes baddies are non-fictional characters he’s seen on the television (half his luck). I say to him “Well actually mate, guns are so dangerous that sometimes the goodies can be killed by them too.” I watched as his chocolate brown eyes filled with confusion and his next words fair dinkum pierced my heart. “But why would anybody want to do that?” Excellent question (insert internal Mummy panic here). After a couple of beats, I countered it with “Because sometimes accidents happen mate.” For now, I believe that’s more than enough for him to process and to worry about. Amazingly, my incredibly tenacious son has never asked me for a toy gun again (yet).

When he’s old enough to watch the news he’ll learn for himself exactly how much damage guns can cause not to mention knives, bombs, fire, flood, famine, earthquakes and so on and then of course, there’s people. Behind all of the terror, all of the bad stuff happening in the world (apart from the damage wreaked by mother-nature) at the core of it all is people. People doing bad things to other people, sometimes unimaginable things. Does a five-year-old really need to be exposed to any of this whether directly (sitting down to watch it) or subliminally (as children are so accomplished at doing, soaking it up by osmosis as the nightly news is on in the background)?

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I don’t think so. You see, right now my eldest son’s greatest worry is the occasional nightmare and bad thoughts about various monsters that plague him as he’s falling asleep. At least now the comfort I can provide him is the fact that the only place those things can hurt him is in his mind and I can reassure him of that with my hand on my heart. As adults we know that not all monsters lurk only in the corners of our minds. If only. For now, trying to control his thoughts about make-believe monsters is enough of a burden on his tiny little shoulders.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to molly coddle him, although the thought is tempting as his world expands. The harsh reality is that there are various unpleasant things he needs to know about and understand. At the moment I’m limiting that to things he can control, things he can do to protect himself from harm like stranger danger information (which he gets in spades), fire awareness (get down low and go, go, go), dialling 000 in an emergency if an adult cannot, safety around water, traffic safety and the like. Whenever we have these conversations it creates a healthy amount of anxiety in him but it’s worry I perceive to be necessary because it could save his life. Anything beyond what’s in his control I just don’t believe is fair right now. How can we expect young children to process acts of terrorism, murder, rape, bashings and armed robbery, all of which can be readily accessed on the nightly news. I can barely process them myself. There is nothing he can do at the moment to protect himself from those things if he tried, so what’s the point in him worrying about them?

Coming from someone who spends at least 30% of her life worrying about things she cannot control (although my husband would probably say it’s more like 50%) I want my boys to retain their childlike innocence for as long as they can. They’ll have the rest of their lives to worry. So for right now our TV stands silent in the evenings. To be honest, it’s a fairly nice respite from the ugliness of the world for us grown-ups too.

When my children’s thoughts and worries do inevitably turn to the terrible things completely out of their control I’ll deal with it then. While it will break my heart for them to realise that there are indeed really, really bad people out there who do really terrible things I hope that I can teach them that the world is mostly made up of people who are good and when really bad things happen, you can always see good people helping out.

I just hope we get to have that conversation later rather than sooner. After all, they don’t get to be children for long.

How old were your kids when you let them watch the nightly news?

 

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