Parenting dilemmas: Should you let kids watch the news?

You can’t keep kids in a protective bubble forever – but at what age is it OK to let them watch the news, and how do you help them make sense of it?

If you regularly watch the news, you’ll have noticed that many stories are “bad” news.

Terrorism, natural disasters, violent crime and famine – the news is often a cocktail of negativity that can worry young minds.

But in a digital world, news is everywhere. So how can you help children understand the news and keep it in perspective?

At what age can kids start watching the news?

“Use your common sense according to the age of your child, their temperament and their developmental level,” says Beyondblue lead clinical advisor Dr Grant Blashki.

“It’s probably not a good idea for kids under six to watch the news. From six to 10, they can watch but parents should sit with them and avoid stories with graphic details. Over the age of 10, it’s still important to sit with children and to explain what is going on.”

Raising Children Network executive director Associate Professor Julie Green recommends children watch a news program designed for them, like the ABC-produced Behind The News.

“It’s aimed at children from eight to 13 and can help children understand issues and events pitched at their level,” says Julie.

You can have a more in-depth conversation with teenagers about the implications of a news story, how it has been framed and how they feel about it.

If TV news is visually confronting, you could first try introducing them to a child-friendly podcast such as Squiz Kids.

Monitor your child’s reaction to the news

“What questions are children asking? If they are watching news about bushfires, are they asking if their house is going to burn down?” says Grant.

“If news is causing stress, turn it off and then talk about what is happening and frame it in a hopeful way.

“Say something like, ‘there are bad fires and a lot of bush has been burned but we are safe and look at what people are doing to support people in the fires’.”

Use a similar approach to any news topics that children find distressing.

Help children make sense of bad news

Don’t brush off the news. Ask your child what they understand about what they have seen or heard.

“Children can become confused and feel unsafe if parents pretend nothing has happened,” says Julie.

“Explain what’s happened – stick to the facts in a brief way, provide some context and reassure your child.

“Ask them how they are feeling and let your child know that it’s OK to feel angry or sad, and that those feelings will pass. Parents can also share their feelings and what they’re doing to cope with them.

“Finally, move on to another activity. For younger children, after talking to them it can be helpful to move on to something that they enjoy that will shift their attention.”

Written by Sarah Marinos.