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How to talk to kids about scary world events

A constant diet of watching scary world events unfold is unsettling. For our children, it’s even more distressing. How can we help them cope?
Susan Swann, FamilyShare Modified: July 10, 2014 at 7:20 pm •  Published: July 13, 2014

There’s little doubt that the world can be a scary place in which to live. There’s no shortage of disturbing stories making their way into our homes each night via the media. We watch tsunamis, earthquakes and senseless shootings unfold before our very eyes at 6pm, and then again at 10pm and perhaps several times in between. Even as adults, a constant diet of watching frightening events is unsettling. For our children, it’s even more distressing. The danger is that in addition to fueling their anxieties, all the doom and gloom can distort children’s perception of the actual world in which they live.

Avoid mean world syndrome

Wikipedia describes something called mean world syndrome. “Mean world syndrome is a term coined by George Gerbner to describe a phenomenon whereby violence-related content of mass media makes viewers believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is.” The article continues: “Gerber, a pioneer researcher on the effects of television on society, argued that people who watched a large amount of television tended to think of the world as an unforgiving place. A direct correlation between the amount of television one watches and the amount of fear one harbors about the world has been proven.”

Look for less sensational sources of information

While we can’t always shield our kids from some of the worst of what the world has to offer, we can ameliorate those effects by reducing both ours and our children’s experiences with these kinds of events. The news doesn’t always have to be accompanied by upsetting pictures. Look for less sensational, age-appropriate sources of information for your children. And if the word’s disasters get to be too much for your family, turn off the television.

Be aware that children take their cues from watching your reaction

Be aware that how you, as parents, react to these catastrophes will, in large measure, determine how your children react. Our children take their cues from us. Discuss the facts of the events calmly. Put them in perspective. If the disasters occurring are half a world away or half a country away, make sure your children understand the context of what they’re watching. Make sure your kids understand that even though what they’re seeing is scary, they are currently in a safe place. Let them cuddle up next to you.

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