Discussing Current Events with Your Kids

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.
—Nelson Mandela, former South African president

As a parent, you walk a tightrope when it comes to current events. On one hand, you want your child to become more aware of the world. On the other hand, you want to shield your child from horrific news. You actually can do both by considering these ideas.

Tips for . . .

all parents

  • Keep abreast of current events and have ways for your kids to do so also. Consider subscribing to a daily newspaper or a weekly news magazine (even if you get most of your news online or through the TV, it’s often helpful to have written news around).
  • If you want to find news that’s more positive, consider adding the Happy News to your daily news intake. Read stories about the good things happening at www.happynews.com.
  • Discuss current events at the dinner table and when you’re together as a family. Kids learn a lot about values and morals when families talk about what gives them hope through the news and what bothers them.
  • Turn off the TV and other electronic media when a story is breaking that is deeply disturbing and chaotic. For example, when the planes hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, the news cameras gave live coverage through most of the day—and most of the week. Unfortunately, this live coverage tends to traumatize kids and adults because it doesn’t provide analysis to make sense of what’s happening. Instead, the coverage activates our fear, anger, and other emotions rather than our intellect.
  • Talk about which aspects of the news you find fascinating. One person might enjoy international affairs. Another finances. Another sports. Another human interest. Discuss how there are lots of different topics that are covered regularly by the news.

parents with children ages birth to 5

  • It’s usually best to keep bad news from your young children. They’re too young to make sense of bad news, so shield them from it. However, there are developmentally appropriate ways to talk about most things—including the news—so simplify news that you feel is important.
  • Even though you want to avoid bad news with young children, consider subscribing to the Sunday newspaper. Look at the comics with your kids. They love the pictures, the colors, and the short, funny stories. A Sunday newspaper also shows kids that other family members read, which is an important message to give.
  • One of the best ways to expand the world of young children is to teach them about faraway places. Pull out world maps. Do research through the Internet. Learn about countries around the world. Talk about what’s happening in certain countries, such as hunger in Ethiopia, ongoing tsunami recovery in the Maldives, and greater access to an education for children in Brazil. For country-by-country news information about children, visit Unicef’s Web site.

parents with children ages 6 to 9

  • Some schools start including current events as part of their curriculum as children learn to read and write. Ask about the curriculum and how you can support it at home.
  • Use the Google News search engine to find news stories that interest your kids, such as stories about cheetahs, rainforests, bugs, and blizzards. Start with your child’s interest about the news and build from there.

parents with children ages 10 to 15

  • Talk with kids about government rulers and how individuals have a role in government (through voting during elections and writing letters to officials to influence legislation). Show your kids how you find out about governmental news through your TV news, radio, newspapers, magazines, or the internet.
  • Build on your child’s interest and show connections between those interests and the news. For example, if your child enjoys science, periodically check out science news. A helpful Web site of science news is Scientific American, which can be found at www.sciam.com.
  • Keep a balance between being aware of current events and living your own lives. Some families listen, watch, or read about the news during one part of the day and then turn it off and go on to something else. Talk about how it’s important to keep up with current events but not to let these events overwhelm you.

parents with children ages 16 to 18

  • Frequently bring up current events to talk about as a family. Current events are a great way to broach subjects that sometimes are hard to discuss, such as teen pregnancy, drug use, and the dangers of driving. Do keep a balance, however, so that your teenager doesn’t believe that every news story that you bring up has personal implications.
  • Do a comparison of the national and international TV news, such as ABC national news with Charles Gibson, BBC international news, CBS national news with Katie Couric, NBC national news with Brian Williams, PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, or one of the cable news stations. See which newscast your teenager likes best. Then recommend you and your teenager watch it periodically (or encourage your teenager to download the free podcast onto his iPod to watch later).
  • Consider subscribing to a newsweekly that sits prominently somewhere in your home for you and your teenager to read. Consider news magazines such as Newsweek, Time, U.S. News & World Report, or The Week.

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