My husband has been glued to the TV ever since this latest turmoil in the Middle East started. We have a television in our bedroom, but the main one is in our family room. Our two kids, aged six and nine, often stop to sit on the couch, usually playing on their iPads and I never thought about what they are seeing until my six-year-old daughter had a nightmare and came crying into our room describing a horrific image she had seen. Not sure how to handle this. It must also affect my son, who is older, but he hasn’t said anything. Are there guidelines?
Too Much News
Dear Too Much News,
This current Middle East war is being fought not only in Israel and in Gaza, but in our own homes. It’s in the news, on TV and radio and in newspapers. It broadcasts on all social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and everything else. People discuss it all the time, and everyone has an opinion. Children identify with real life, with images of families and other children, which is why seeing human suffering on a 42-inch screen in your own home can be completely devastating for a child.
The clips being shown are horrific, even for adults, so your husband is going to have to be more sensitive. I understand why he needs to be glued to the news, especially now, but he should watch it on his bedroom TV, or record it and watch after the kids have gone to bed. You, as parents, should serve as a buffer.
You can’t shelter your children completely, so you need to monitor and control what they see as much as possible. Explain to your kids in simple terms, on their level, what they are seeing and hearing. Your six-year-old will need a different approach than your nine-year-old. Make sure to consider their individual emotional and intellectual limitations.
At six, your daughter needs to know she is safe. She may have trouble separating images on TV from her daily life. She can identify with an image of a mother crying or a bloodied child. She may be frightened by the sound and sight of an explosion. Comfort her by letting her stay with you if she has a nightmare. She views these images on personal terms, and she shouldn’t be exposed to them. She can’t understand the concept of war, as it’s not part of her life. But an image of a mommy and child is, and she can understand when someone is crying or hurt. Tell her this is happening very far away and make sure she feels secure.
Your nine-year-old, however, is able to understand more complex information and is capable of logical thinking. Create an open dialogue with him. Find out what he already knows about what’s going on in Israel. You’ll get a good idea of how he has analyzed the information he’s seen and heard.
Most boys his age have been exposed to violent images through video games and regular television shows and may be desensitized to violent images, but at nine, he also knows the difference between reality and fiction. Pick and choose what you allow him to watch and read. Scout out articles you feel are appropriate and discuss them. Or record a few broadcasts and watch the appropriate ones together, pausing and talking about what you see. He needs accurate information from you to be able to form an opinion about something that may have been shown out of context.
He should understand that not everything he sees should be taken at face value, that there can be many views on one situation. Give him the tools he needs to think through what he is watching. Censor the gruesome images if you can. Most importantly, talk at his level. He is not an adult, he is still a child living in difficult times, but because he is Jewish, even living far away in Canada, he is still affected. This is an opportunity to instil some understanding and thoughtful analysis.
Do something concrete to help. Tell your son about some of the charities available that he can identify with. People have been donating pizza, underwear and socks to the IDF. Go through the process with him and let him contribute.
These are not easy times, and this war has far-reaching effects. Be mindful.