Why Children Need Solutions - New Children's Book!
Do you worry about the news your children are exposed to? It has long been a concern of mine how to navigate the news without being totally blindsided by its negativity - but when I had my little ones, I wondered how they might be able to do it too!
If adults get down and depressed when watching the news, what effect does it have on children? Author and campaigner Jodie Jackson became a mother around the time she wrote her first book ‘You Are What You Read’. Now pregnant with her third, she decided it was time to package up the lessons of her research in a children’s book. ‘Little Ruffle and the world beyond’ is the result.
Many years of research has shown us how the relentless stream of negative news makes those who consume it feel anxious, pessimistic and depressed. These feelings linger, because we become so well-rehearsed at feeling them. By continually witnessing unresolved problems, we develop a feeling of helplessness. This is true for adults just as much as for younger news consumers.
Children are exposed to the news from an early age. They see or hear the news often many times a day through television, radio, conversation, newspapers, magazines and online. Even if we do not think they are paying attention, they often pick up more than we know.
Fear is one of the first responses we might recognise in our children. They may become withdrawn or angry to express their frustration. Further, the impact of bad news on our children may lead them to develop a defeatist attitude; the belief that the problems in the world are just too big to solve.
This all begs the question: what can we do as parents to both protect our children’s mental health, and help them be better informed about the condition of the world and the state of humanity? Organisations such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the Common Sense Media charity in the US have produced guidelines on children’s news consumption. These include limiting children’ exposure to the news, especially when the topics are difficult, dangerous, violent and disturbing.
Parents and caregivers are urged to be aware of when news might be on in the background on tv or radio, or when they have adult conversations about the news when children are in the room. Another suggestion is to explain to our children that news can be exaggerated or sensationalised to help grab our attention, so not to take it quite so seriously. They use the often cited ‘bad news sells’ as the reason that broadcasters pick this kind of content in a competitive media environment.
We do not have to accept that these responses are simply collateral damage: the cost of being informed. Arguably, by reporting heavily on so many problems, children are not even very well-informed, because they are not given a complete picture of the world.
In an increasingly digital age, where children are plugged into technology for any average of 23 hours a week, managing what they see and hear is hard. Limiting exposure to bad news is necessary, but it is not enough. Just as for adults, it makes sense to actively increase children’s exposure to genuine, non-fluff, well-reported good news stories.
Hope and optimism are both beliefs that the future can be better than the past; not that it will be better but that it canbe. When children are optimistic or hopeful, they tend to move toward the problem; this is known as active coping. It can give them the courage to both confront a problem and persevere if they do not solve it straight away.
As parents, teachers, governors and newsmakers, we need to embrace the principles of constructive journalism, as championed for many years by Positive News, and apply them to the information environment of our children too. Not to shield them from the world’s problems, but to be able to see what is possible in their presence.
Article Jodie Jackson’s book ‘Little Ruffle and the world beyond’ is out now. A free resources pack for parents and educators in primary schools and childcare settings can be downloaded from littleruffle.co.uk