Screen Time Rules

How To Limit Your Family’s News Intake For Better Emotional Health

Delaney Ruston, MD
July 20, 2021
Computer screen with bad news screen

These days I’ve been talking with young people about the ways national headlines continuously seep into their lives from places like Instagram, TikTok, TV, newspapers, digital or print, and the list goes on.

In fact, recently, I spoke with someone who has decided to really cut down on their social media use and news feeds because they saw how it was impacting their mental state. As parents, if our kids are not taking more breaks on their own, how can we model a better way and do things like making a new family media agreement to help our kids have time away from the negative news?  

I have written in the past and podcasted about how we help our kids recognize disinformation, but today I’m discussing managing the quantity of “bad news.” 

I believe there is an unspoken social pressure that to be a “good adult,” one should consume at least some media news every day.  I know that many youth I talk to agree with me. 

In addition, given all the time youth are connected to media, many are also getting news a lot. And news, by design, is attention-grabbing and rarely pretty.  It is often downright demoralizing: A new Covid variant, another economic scandal, another natural disaster, continued shortages of vaccines globally against Covid, and on and on. 

We all know that news outlets report negative stories because our minds are evolutionarily designed to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. This negativity has an insidious impact on our kids.

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Here are some thoughts, data, and stories, and hopefully, something will resonate and lead you to share it with your child or children:

  1. “It’s good to be informed but not submerged” is a saying I came up with that helps me stay on a healthy news diet. I am very conscious of the importance of knowing the big picture of what is happening locally, nationally, and internationally.  But, I also know I don’t have to read about things every single day. I need time to recharge my batteries from the negative news. In raising my kids, we have had many conversations about the time and type of news we consume and how we need to stay aware of its impact on us emotionally. As a parent, you might consider talking with your kids about how the news makes you feel and how you adjust your intake, given your emotional state.
  1. Yesterday I spoke with my dear friend, call her Pam, about her daughter, call her Jill, who is in her thirties and is a wonderful radio reporter. I have known Jill since she was a teen and have been so proud of her for following her dream to be a reporter.

    Jill has been covering Covid and only Covid for over a year — story after story — and the work has been extremely challenging and excruciating at times. The deaths, the family stories, the way politics have poisoned so much of this public health crisis. 

    Well, Pam told me that Jill had started to suffer emotionally, and it was a hard decision, but with encouragement from her family, she decided to take a leave of absence from her job. Now a month later, she is starting to feel much better. 
  1. “What motivates us vs. demoralizes us?” is a big theme in our household. Rather than be a spectator in life — i.e., just reading news — how do we find ways actually to do things to make positive change? What stories can we read in the news that fuels a desire to make change vs. news that feels so heavy and daunting that we feel like there is no way we can make any difference in this world?
  1. Time is not infinite. When we read other people's news — the media's news — it takes away time for us to create our own personal news or to hear about news from people we care about in our immediate circles. What news does cool aunt Shelly have going on?
  1. Is it time to talk about creating a new or revised media time agreement? If so, remember to have “Rules via Reasons.” Have talks with your kids about why having time off screens and news is important to you, and get their input on what is important to them. Then find compromises. At times, you might have to be a “benevolent dictator” and make a rule point blank but still, make sure you express good reasons for your rules. I can’t tell you the number of youth who have said that they so appreciate understanding our (us parents) reasoning — they still might be disappointed, but that tends to fade with time if we do this with love and stay open to compromises.
  1. News seeps into our conscious and unconscious minds, eliciting fear and distrust in other people, when the truth is the stories in the news are the extreme cases of human fallibility. I have been obsessed with ensuring that my kids know that the VAST majority of people are good. 
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Just yesterday, we were looking at old home movies, and my son asked to see footage of Leon and talked about how he still thinks about him at times. Leon was a man who was homeless who I got to know while jogging. He clearly had schizophrenia and was just a delight, always wanting to give me little toys. I brought my kids to meet him a few times, and he gave them little toys that they still have today. 

All this said, I want to be clear that I have taught my kids a lot about safety. I grew up in a high-crime neighborhood which makes me very safety conscious. For example, I have made sure they know to always listen to their gut and if, for example, they see a person who gives them any strange feelings, cross the street — never worry that the person will think badly of them. Another example is never, when home alone, open the door to people they don’t know even if they look like an Amazon delivery person. 

Ideas for conversation starters

  1. What are the sources of news we are each receiving? Social media? 
  2. How do you think it would be like to be a reporter on Covid and other emotionally difficult stories?
  3. How are we doing as a family in terms of not getting swamped by the news?
  4. What types of news stories motivate vs. demoralize us?
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Screen Time Rules

How To Limit Your Family’s News Intake For Better Emotional Health

Delaney Ruston, MD
July 20, 2021
Computer screen with bad news screen

These days I’ve been talking with young people about the ways national headlines continuously seep into their lives from places like Instagram, TikTok, TV, newspapers, digital or print, and the list goes on.

In fact, recently, I spoke with someone who has decided to really cut down on their social media use and news feeds because they saw how it was impacting their mental state. As parents, if our kids are not taking more breaks on their own, how can we model a better way and do things like making a new family media agreement to help our kids have time away from the negative news?  

I have written in the past and podcasted about how we help our kids recognize disinformation, but today I’m discussing managing the quantity of “bad news.” 

I believe there is an unspoken social pressure that to be a “good adult,” one should consume at least some media news every day.  I know that many youth I talk to agree with me. 

In addition, given all the time youth are connected to media, many are also getting news a lot. And news, by design, is attention-grabbing and rarely pretty.  It is often downright demoralizing: A new Covid variant, another economic scandal, another natural disaster, continued shortages of vaccines globally against Covid, and on and on. 

We all know that news outlets report negative stories because our minds are evolutionarily designed to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. This negativity has an insidious impact on our kids.

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