How to talk to kids about awful news

Tech Talk Tuesday #87: How to talk to your kids about awful news 

Many kids were sleeping at 10 pm when the news of the unfathomable Las Vegas shooting first came out. The news was there waiting for them when they woke up and looked at their phones or saw the morning shows on TV, or some other screen. How do we handle helping our kids with scary and tragic news?

All of us here at “Screenagers” have teens and tweens. Lisa, co-producer of Screenagers, has a daughter who became aware of Sunday night’s shooting when she saw the morning news program Lisa was watching. “I did think ‘Should I turn this off before my daughter comes in,’ ” Lisa told me. But she said her daughter, who is a 14-year-old freshman in high school, is interested in what is going on in the world. “She was quite annoyed with me for not telling her about what is going on with North Korea. I am glad she is interested in global affairs, but want to make sure she has tools to work with when emotions around these hard subjects surface.”

Harold S. Koplewicz, MD is a psychiatrist and runs the Child Mind Institute. His advice for relating upsetting news stories is that it is better to hear the information from you rather than the feeds on your kids’ phones or from other kids whenever possible. Koplewicz writes the following in an article titled Helping Children Cope With Frightening News :

“Take your cues from your child... Give her ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions about upsetting details. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.”

I would add that sometimes our kids aren’t sure what questions they have or what emotions they are feeling. That is normal and telling them that is essential. It can be helpful to say how you are feeling and the questions that are rumbling around in your head such as: "How is that people are capable of such extreme goodness, and yet at times such unbelievable cruelty?" These types of questions can be unanswerable, but it is so important to discuss. 

For this TTT, let's talk about difficult news. Here are some questions you may find useful.

  • What feelings are coming up for all of us in this time of tragedy?
  • When you feel scared or concerned about news how do you process those emotions? Talk to friends? Write posts? Write in a journal? Talk with your family?
  • What can we do to honor and support those in need?