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"I want my kids to watch TV coverage of the MH17 crash."

How close should we let kids get to the coverage of MH17?

When I woke up yesterday, nothing seemed particularly different. I followed my normal routine of hitting the snooze button approximately seven times until I could no longer deny the day.

Then, as I do every morning, I rolled over in the dark, grabbed my phone and almost blinded myself by reading the screen with unacclimatised retinas.

I could hear the boys stirring downstairs, arguing about something trivial, eventually settling on a TV channel they were both happy with. Also, knowing that the teenager wouldn’t rise until I forcefully made her, I figured I better get moving myself.

I quickly checked my Twitter stream and saw the words ‘Malaysian airline’ and ‘crash’ and I was instantly excited. Had they found the missing plane? It didn’t take me long to realise that no, no they hadn’t. In fact, as I was to quickly find out, it was much, much worse than that.

I bolted out of bed, ran downstairs and snatched the remote control out of my son’s sweaty little hand, flicked over from Adventure Time to the 24 hour news and watched as the world showed us itself at its utter worst.

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking too much about them, the two very impressionable little boys on the couch, slack jawed and wide eyed beside me. I was so rapt up in this catastrophic event, so keen to morbidly see it play out in front of me in real time, that I had given very little regard to what, if any, damage this would do to them.

Until I was jolted back to reality with this from my 7-year-old: “Did someone just bazooka a plane out of the sky Mum?” Helpfully, my 12-year-old son, who is knowledgeable (i.e. obsessed) with all things aviation, explained to his brother that yes, “Actually, someone, presumably the Russians, has launched a heat seeking missile at a Malaysian Airlines plane and blown it to smithereens”.

My seven year son stood up, looked at me, wiped the tear that had quietly escaped from my eye and asked with large green eyes, one simple question – “But, why?”

How was I supposed to answer that when I didn’t even know myself?

That’s when I quickly realised that maybe I was being far too lax with what I was allowing my children to see. Was I traumatising them with my lack of censorship? Did they really need to confront this kind of reality at such a young age? Wasn’t life going to be cruel enough? Most importantly, what kind of damage would I be doing to them in the long run?

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Experts are wary about exposure to such heavy content and heavily discourage it.

Patrick J. McGrath, a clinical psychologist, researcher and Professor of Psychology, Paediatrics, and Psychiatry at Dalhousie University reinforces the damage that can done by too much exposure:

“Excessive watching of graphic images and hearing or reading about death and destruction can be harmful. It can trigger anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“PTSD sufferers have anxiety, nightmares, and flashbacks of events. They may worry about disasters afflicting their family. They may avoid places or things they see as related to the disaster. Children can become withdrawn and cling to their parents.

“You should monitor and control the frightening images that your child sees and hears. Young children should not be seeing dead bodies and overwhelming devastation. They do not have the ability to understand what is happening.

“Every child is different. Some children are biologically more susceptible to anxiety.”

While I’m sure the above is very true, I also am a firm believer that children need to exposed to a certain amount of real world realities.

Bern with her sons.

I also believe we all deserve and NEED to have those ‘where were you when’ memories. Where were you when the Twin Towers fell? Where were you when Diana died? Where were you when ‘Port Arthur’ happened? We all remember where we were. What we were doing. This is because these points in time, and these are often terrible points in time, become our emotional and historical markers.

I feel as though I’m starting to get dangerously close to desensitisation at times. The way we process a daily news cycle in 2014 is almost making us eliminate empathy or, for want of a better term, our ‘care factor’ because we simply have to keep moving on through to the next big or ‘breaking’ story.

I am increasingly saddened and alarmed by this. As an adult, I have always felt things, whether they be real to me or removed, very deeply and have always wanted for my children to feel and understand this too. I believe it is how we make sense of our world, even when the world doesn’t make sense.

Watching their little faces as they absorbed today’s tragedy though, I realised that, although I stand by my decision to allow them watch the heavier news stories, I do need to prepare them first. That if I’m going to be showing them these kind of images, I need to be ready to answer their questions. And I need to be an adult and answer them calmly and logically.

How about you? Do you think children should be shielded from disasters? Do you think with enough guidance, they can understand and emotionally cope or am I, in short, by censoring nothing, eventually going to stress my children the hell out?

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