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Our Favourite Ways to Talk to Children about Current Affairs

In light of the events that are happening around the world, and in our own backyards, it's important to think about how you discuss these events with your children, what level of detail to go into and to understand where else they may be getting their own information


All consuming

Young people can access news from anywhere in the world, at any time, on their smart phones or laptops, while younger children will now encounter screens showing news channels in cafes, railway stations or on digital advertising boards.

A concern for today's parents in these increasingly turbulent times is the unsettling nature of news items, as well as the graphic nature of some of the images out there. As parents, it's also important to stay aware of what children hear from us, and what they may pick up from our own anxieties and interests. Tuning into these factors is crucial in encouraging children's positive engagement in current affairs.

Ages and stages

The key areas of parental concern are how to be open and honest without causing upset or anxiety; finding the appropriate level in discussions and gauging how much information to share. Getting this right means paying attention to a better quality of communication on these matters and good listening.

  • Pre-schoolers: Will largely hear what's happening in the world from parents first as there are fewer external influences. The key principle in sharing news with toddlers is to keep it simple, this is especially important because they can easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears.
  • Primary school age children: May show a greater awareness of what's going on. A helpful tip is to always check in on what they have heard first and ask them if they have questions about what occurred - for example, a school shooting, community bombing or natural disaster. Always provide some context and reassurance.
  • Pre-teens and teenagers: It's sometimes helpful if you consider together why a frightening or disturbing story was featured, for example perhaps it has sensational value and will increase a programme's ratings. In this way, a potentially frightening story can be turned into a worthwhile discussion about the role and mission of the news and you can focus on the different motivations behind the various formats. It can help if you discuss with the young person the fact that news providers compete for viewers and that this can affect content decisions.

A parent can follow-up as needed based on their child's reactions and questions. The key is to be honest and help your child feel safe so there is no need to go into more details than necessary.

5 top tips

Tip #1: Filter graphic or disturbing news

This constant stream of information appearing in shareable videos, posts, blogs, feeds, and alerts comes mainly from sites that are designed for adult audiences. What your child sees, hears, or reads might not always be age-appropriate. Many children will receive news directly on their phones and laptops without parents around to immediately help them make sense of distressing situations.

  • Make use of parental controls for online sites or channels inappropriate for your child's age or level of development
  • Keep an eye on your child's TV and smart phone habits. For very young children, if you're uncomfortable with the content of the news, turn it off.

Tip #2: Consider your own reactions

Your children will look at the way you handle the news to determine their own approach. If you stay calm and rational, they will, too. It's important to consider your own reactions and any anxieties you may be displaying. Try not to scaremonger and be careful your children don't overhear anxious conversations adults in their lives might be having. Older teens are better able to understand current events, but be aware that they often find it difficult to differentiate fact from opinion.

  • Accentuate the positive
  • Try to encourage a balanced world-view by expanding awareness with wider news stories.

Tip #3: Talk about it

Many children will see the morality of events in stark black-and-white terms as they are in the process of developing their moral beliefs. You may have to explain the basics of prejudice, bias, and civil and religious strife. Be careful about making generalisations. It's good practice to ask them what they know and you may have to correct certain facts.

It's important to help kids think through stories they have heard about. Ask questions: What do you think about these events? How do you think these things happen? These questions can encourage conversation about non-news topics too.

  • Be available for questions and conversation
  • Ask your child questions about what they have seen or heard.

Tip #4: Keep perspective, provide context

Showing that certain events are isolated or explaining how one relates to another can help children make better sense of what they hear. Try to broaden the discussion from a disturbing news item to a larger conversation about the background and context.

After a tragic event, children may gain a sense of control and feel more secure if you help them find ways to help those affected by the tragedy or to pay respects to those who have died. Take the opportunity to talk about philanthropy, cooperation, and the ability of people to be resilient in the face of hardship.

  • Provide background
  • Talk about what you could do to help.

Tip #5: Engage in news together

Engaging in news together will help you to gauge what your children are capable of handling. Many can handle a discussion about threatening events, but if your child is more sensitive, keep them away from TV news. Repetitive images and stories can make dangers appear greater, more prevalent, and closer to home.

Talking with older children can offer great insights into their developing politics and their moral sense. It will also give you the opportunity to throw your own insights into the mix, but be careful not to dismiss theirs as that will most likely shut down the conversation.

  • Consider your child's maturity and temperament
  • Check in: share information and discussion at the dinner table.


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