There’s that story of a six-year-old who was told that his grandpa had died. “Oh, so who shot grandpa?” he asked. A lot of children who watch news bulletins are asking just that, say psychiatrists.
If news bulletins were to be rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board that rates films and video games, the rating would be ‘R’ (restricted under 17) for terror, violence, gore, and/or strong language.Following the news of Osama bin Laden being shot dead this week, the media went ballistic with video footage of al-Qaeda’s random acts of terror over the past decade. Images of people mutilated, bleeding and weeping took up newspace and airtime, followed by footage of people celebrating the gory death of the world’s most wanted man.
That his 12-year-old daughter witnessed the shootout became collateral damage, as did the impact these violent images would have on young impressionable minds.
Child psychologists say news channels usually have more graphic scenes of violence and death in one news bulletin than video games and films with adult ratings. Two years after the Oklahoma City bombing in the US, 16% of children who lived 100 miles away from the city reported post-traumatic stress symptoms related to the attack even though they were not directly exposed to the trauma or related to people who had been killed or injured.
“Live reporting brings every act of violence and grief home, from a tsunami in Japan and terror acts to accidents and starvation deaths. Ideally, news channels should report the news without explicit footage, but since TRP ratings make this impossible, the next best thing is to encourage your child to discuss his or her fears or anxieties with you,” says Dr Sameer Malhotra, head of the department of psychiatry, Fortis Hospital, Noida.
With the tsunami in Japan and bin Laden’s killing dominating news channels for over a month, death and destruction are dominating dinnertime conversations in most homes. “Since most children do not understand what is happening, they merge fact with fiction to form their own nightmares; and it becomes important for parents to explain violence and death in a language that the child understands,” says Dr Samir Parikh, head of the department of psychiatry at Max Super-Speciality Hospital in Saket.Experts say parents should avoid using euphemisms to explain death, such as telling kids that someone has "gone away" or "gone to sleep". "Most children think very literally and these explanations may make them fear that someone leaving home may never come back or even make them afraid of falling asleep," says Malhotra.
Most of all, adults must deal with their own emotional reactions before they can help their children understand. If you cannot stop yourself from cowering from or hitting back at the injustices of the world, don’t expect your child to go to bed with happy thoughts.