Education Cheat Sheet: Helping Kids Navigate News
How can we assist our children to be aware but not anxious about current events? We have 7 tips.
Editor’s Note: Every month, in partnership with the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools, our Education Cheat Sheet offers parents tips from educators regarding a variety of topics ranging from education buzz words to when it is OK for a kid to quit to social emotional development and how to get the most from a parent teacher conference. This month, Asia Pacific International School’s founding director, Eddie Kim, Ph.D., offers insights on walking your kids through current events.
At Asia Pacific International School, we encourage students to apply their learning to real-world contexts, often using current news as an important resource for learning. For example, Algebra 2 students utilized data from the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization to create their own exponential models of how COVID-19 spread in select countries or states. As these 10th-grade students navigated the news, they thought critically about the effectiveness of COVID-19 responses, hosting a World Health Summit Panel to present their findings.
While the news can be a catalyst for critical thinking, reports about worldwide pandemics, fighting overseas or extreme wildfires can be scary. So how can we help our kids absorb news in a peaceful and age-appropriate way? Here are seven ways to guide them through the information.
Is your television playing in the background? Do you listen to the morning news on the drive to school? Leading sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Common Sense Media, recommend shielding children 6 years and younger away from scary news. For young children, it is difficult to decipher reality and probability and to determine what is here in Hawaiʻi and versus what is happening somewhere else in the world.
Ask, “How Are You Feeling and What Have You Heard?”
No matter how much we try to keep a comfortable bubble of youth around our child, they will most likely still encounter scary news, whether overhearing adult conversations, seeing a preview on TV or glancing at the newspaper headlines in the store checkout line.
So give your child a safe space to conversate – perhaps on the ride home from school, at dinner or before bedtime. Ask questions and give him or her time to respond.
Give Facts and Context
During these talks, you can refute misconceptions and myths. Children ages 7 and older are mostly concerned about their own safety. Let them know the viral post about a draft for World War III isn’t true. Show them how far Hawaiʻi is from the missiles in Israel. Let them know the wildfires in California most likely will not reach us.
Young children cannot typically comprehend issues such as climate change, resource misallocation, peace and conflict, or political parties. So during these conversations, it is best to keep the conversations concise and comforting.
Process Through Play and Art
A drawing of bullets or blood can be difficult to see, but this communication outlet serves a purpose. While continuing to have open conversations, empower your child to express themselves and make sense of the world in other ways. Give children time to creatively process scary news. Then discuss their creations in an open manner.
Look for Heroes and Helpers
Mr. Rogers would often share his mother’s advice: “When something scary is happening, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Instead of the disaster or tragedy, focus on stories about rebuilding or memorials. Two years after the September 11 attack, many children were drawing images of American flags and heroes like police officers or firefighters. The narrative in the news and conversations among Americans helped to shape this more hopeful reaction.
Take Positive Action Together
Does hearing about the homeless crisis in Hawaiʻi upset you and your child? What about the plastic pollution on the beaches? As children get to the middle school age, they can begin to become helpers themselves.
Confront the facts, feelings and frustrations, then begin to brainstorm actions to take with your child. It could be steps to protect your family or your community or could even make the world a better place. You might consider bringing an older child to a peaceful rally, collecting donations or writing to an elected official.
Model Good News Consumption Habits
Those little eyes are always watching their parents and the time-worn phrase still holds true, “Actions speak louder than words.” The news has a purpose to help us understand what is happening in the world. Explain that the news isn’t simply for entertainment, but to assist us in finding ways to become a helper for others.
As a parent, remember to be conscientious of your reactions. Part of this is making sure that you give yourself time to read without distractions so you can process and think critically about this important information. We would want our children to read something thoroughly before making a Facebook post or responding to a catchy headline.
In this interconnected world, it also is important to know when it is time to say, “I’ve had enough today. I need to enjoy the positives in life and my family.”
See also: 📰 Meet the Scholastic Kid Reporter from Hawaiʻi
Want to know more?
- News Sources for Kids by Common Sense Media
- Media and Tech by Child Mind Institute
- Kids and the Media by the American Psychological Association
Eddie Kim, Ph.D. is the founding director of Asia Pacific International School, which has K-12 campuses in Hau‘ula and Seoul, South Korea. Kim has been an international educator for more than 20 years and received his B.A. from Dartmouth College and Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University.