On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics expressed its grief and condolences following the horrific Las Vegas massacre the evening before. For the AAP, it wasn’t too soon to reiterate its long-standing policy commitment to a difficult and pervasive public health problem:
“The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates for strong state and federal gun laws that protect children in every state of the nation. Despite the fact that these types of events have become all too common in our daily lives, we must not grow complacent in our reaction to them, and instead renew our resolve to stop them from occurring again and again.
“Finally, we know graphic images and descriptions of violence can be upsetting to children. Parents of young children are urged to avoid constant media coverage of the massacre.
Not that long ago, we talked about what kids see and hear during times of national tragedy, and noted that in trying to make heads or tails of bad news, the kids are watching us:
Children today have so many avenues from which to choose to communicate, to get informed, and to be entertained. Even for those whose media habits are well-supervised or whose bubbles are made practically impenetrable by their “helicopter parents,” our children are exposed to sounds and images — words and deeds — that are ugly, unkind, hurtful, and, all too often, obscene. Just in this past week, the cacophony of sounds and images coming in over the airwaves, the interwebs, social media, and in regular social conversation has been (and, truth be told, should be) disturbing. Exposure to many of these sounds and images in children may be unavoidable, especially in homes where there may be a media device or two in every room. And remember that children have social lives; they talk to each other and sometimes even show each other things that parents might not have a clue of.
The AAP reminds us that parents and grandparents, teachers, child care providers, and others who spend time with children need to be sensitive to children of all ages:
No matter what age or developmental stage the child is, parents can start by asking a child what they’ve already heard. Most children will have heard something, no matter how old they are. After you ask them what they’ve heard, ask what questions they have.
Older children, teens, and young adults might ask more questions and may request and benefit more from additional information. But no matter what age the child is, it’s best to keep the dialogue straightforward and direct.
It’s also important to keep tabs on the types and content of media children are consuming, and filter (or avoid altogether) graphic images and sounds:
In general, it is best to share basic information with children, not graphic details, or unnecessary details about tragic circumstances. Children and adults alike want to be able to understand enough so they know what’s going on. Graphic information and images should be avoided.
Keep young children away from repetitive graphic images and sounds that may appear on television, radio, social media, computers, etc.
With older children, if you do want them to watch the news, record it ahead of time. That allows you to preview it and evaluate its contents before you sit down with them to watch it. Then, as you watch it with them, you can stop, pause, and have a discussion when you need to.
Children will generally follow good advice, but you have to give them some latitude to make decisions about what they’re ready for. You can block them from seeing the newspaper that comes to the door, for example, but not the one on the newsstand. Today, most older children will have access to the news and graphic images through social media and other applications right from their cell phone. You need to be aware of what’s out there and take steps in advance to talk to children about what they might hear or see.
Signs that your child might not be coping well with bad news include:
- Sleep problems: Watch for trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, difficulty waking, nightmares, or other sleep disturbances.
- Physical complaints: Children may complain of feeling tired, having a headache, or generally feeling unwell. You may notice your child eating too much or less than usual.
- Changes in behavior: Look for signs of regressive behavior, including social regression, acting more immature, or becoming less patient and more demanding. A child who once separated easily from her parents may become clingy. Teens may begin or change current patterns of tobacco, alcohol, or substance use.
- Emotional problems: Children may experience undue sadness, depression, anxiety, or fears.
These are tough times for all of us right now. It seems like a barrage of very bad news from real events (not “fake news” coming from dubious sources, or scaremongering coming from the usual suspects) is coming at us every day, delivered directly to our inbox, newsfeed, newspaper, and nightly news report. We need to demonstrate to our children that we are not helpless in solving the major problems of our day. They need to learn their history and embrace the legacy into which they have been born: We have fallen, but we can get up. We are Americans — we’ve got this.