Recent ISIS attacks in Brussels require parents to once again address worldwide threats and tragedies with children and teens. Details continue to unfold and facts continue to be discovered, but media coverage and discussion continue well beyond parental control via television, social media outlets, conversations at school and countless resources online. How can you teach kids media smarts in times of tragedy so that they may learn tools to help cope?

  1. Identify credible news sources. Common Sense Media advocates pointing out the difference between credible and noncredible news sources and discussing them with your kids. Besides getting information from their friends, older kids and teens will often go to Twitter or social media as a first stop for what happened. While Twitter can offer breaking news details at the very beginning of a tragedy for those that might be affected in the area, Twitter can also provide a mess of misinformation and scare tactics from folks who truly don’t have an inside knowledge about the situation. Make an effort to teach age-appropriate kids the difference between fact and opinion, and how to seek out credible news sources on social media. Additionally, educate teens about why the ongoing news cycle exists, including ratings and monetary gain, and how cable news is a business. Cable news makes money according to how much coverage they offer on air and how many eyeballs tune in. Remind kids about the dangers of binge-watching anything as the more you watch something, the worse and bigger it seems. Encourage teens to watch for informational purposes in small doses so they may have awareness and time to emotionally cope.
  2. Consider your own habits and reactions. When you watch tragedies in the media, do you cry? Do you act nervous? Do you stay calm and rational? Kids often watch and follow adult behavior. Given the age of your kids, be open to discuss and ask questions about what they’ve heard, seen or think about the current event. If your family is safe, reinforce that feeling. Consider watching the news or reading about the event online together, so that you may discuss simultaneously. Suggest proactive actions that citizens can do to help in your community, on an ongoing basis, for instance, “If you see something, say something.”
  3. Filter information for young kids.  If you have kids younger than 7 at home, opt to watch news and get information via your phone or tablet so they do not see harmful images and video blasted across your television screen. Repetition of tragic information and images on a large screen can affect small children much more than it affects older kids. Once children see something, they can’t un-see it. Be selective with how often you watch and how you obtain your news if small children are around. Tanya Altmann, pediatrician and expert at Kids In the House, recommends shielding young children from news coverage altogether and to answer any questions quickly and simply, according to age.

Additional insight regarding age-appropriateness guidelines and discussion about media coverage during tragic events offered by Common Sense Media here.

Jill Simonian is a Parenting Lifestyle Contributor and appears every Wednesday on CBS Los Angeles’ 5pm News. Her personal blog is Follow Jill on Twitter @jillsimonian and connect with her on Facebook.