When my oldest daughter was little, she didn’t like it when I watched the news because she thought it was boring. The 24 hour news onslaught was just beginning on cable and internet news was one of those things that people said was coming, but I wasn’t sure how. 18 years ago you would turn on one of the “Big 3” networks and watch the national news and then follow that up with the local news. That is how it was delivered, and that was what every responsible adult did. My daughter hated it because it was boring.
Well here we are today. “ News ”, and I say “ news ” lightly, comes across multiple cable channels, the internet, tablets, phones, radio programming, and even on our comedy shows. The “ news ” is everywhere. My youngest daughter, now 10, has a similar reaction as my oldest daughter did, but I find myself being much more guarded with leaving a news channel going in the background or letting my daughter even be in the room when I am watching the news. The “ news ” seems to no longer simply be about keeping you informed but instead it seems to be as provocative as most primetime programming.
Maybe it is me. Maybe as I am aging I find myself more and more repulsed by the violence in this world and our willingness to show it to everyone. Maybe it is me because it haunts me to hear about the meanness happening across the world and how any day that meanness is going to land on our doorstep. Maybe as a father I am just more concerned than I was years ago. But I really don’t think it is just me. Meanness and terror and evil people have been around long before the ability to take and share pictures of their atrocities. But in today’s ultra-competitive “ news ” environment there seems to be a willingness to shock and titillate and even repulse viewers in the hopes of holding their attention. Graphic details of what terrorists are doing to their captives and pictures of genocide from around the world and stories of abductions and murder and horrific acts that do not need the gruesome details shared to understand their horror are paraded out under the guise of “ news ”. Couple that with the complete lack of filtering on some very easy to find websites; and pictures and videos of humanity’s darkest moments are there for public consumption.
Why am I sharing this with you today? Part of me just needs to share that it continues to worry me that as we make more and more of the horrors of life available for public consumption, we will become less sensitized to it and I think teachers and parents need to hear that message. Part of me also wants to warn parents and teachers that their supervision of their children’s internet perusing needs to go beyond blocking pornography websites and that you must be vigilant that your students and your kids don’t end up on a website that is showing beheadings, mass graves or even the brutal fistfights on YouTube.
But today the bigger message is that we live in a scary world. The world isn’t any meaner than it was hundreds of years ago, but today we have the ability to bring visceral images and words from across this world and display its meanness in HD quality for all to see. The world has become much smaller, and when bad things happen anywhere it is there for all to see – including young eyes.
Vigilance is not enough to shield young children from the meanness that is so readily accessible, although vigilance is incredibly important. In fact, parents and teachers need to have a plan for what you are going to restrict access to and how you are going to do it. What are you willing for your young child, preteen, early teen, and independent teen to see and hear? My oldest daughter is heading to college after this year, so I make her sit and watch certain news stories with me so that she will understand the world she will be entering as an independent adult. I want her to know that there are people out there and situations out there that she should avoid. I want her to understand that she should be kind to all but trust only those she truly knows. I need her to have her own resolve and vigilance when I can no longer be there to provide it for her on a daily basis.
My youngest daughter does not need to see or hear those things. Instead, she needs her momma and daddy to provide the directions and supervision necessary for safety. Yes, she needs to understand that she doesn’t go anywhere with a stranger and she doesn’t let anyone touch her or say ugly things to her. She needs to understand how to yell for help and how to find us if we should get separated. But she doesn’t need to know the extent to which meanness occurs and the real life nightmares being lived out by far too many around this world. And she sure doesn’t need to see or hear about the meanness and the filth that is far too easily accessible on a computer or phone or tablet or television. Young kids don’t need to hear stories of beheadings or genocide or rape or murder. They don’t need the details of cruelty – they just need the safety of parents.
But as I said earlier, there is an ultra-competitive “ news ” world that is bent on bringing the “ news ” to you in the most sensationalistic way possible so that it will hold your interest. But what about those little ears in the next room? What about those little eyes hiding behind the couch to play but are now instead focused on that sensationalized story? What about those little minds that are having their veil of innocence and security pierced by a dissonant society that is more bent on collecting clicks than safeguarding young hearts and minds? Vigilance just isn’t enough because even the most vigilant mom and dad can’t shield their little ones from everything being poured through all the mediums of communication. You can’t go into a restaurant without seeing news stories on the television above the bar. You can’t turn on the radio without hearing way too graphic descriptions about some poor soul whose life was taken. And you can’t connect to the internet without some story ready to pop up with pictures that none of us need to have bouncing around our minds, much less our little ones.
So what is your plan?
What are you going to do to help your students and/or your kids cope with this “ news ” onslaught that is bringing the world to them in graphic color and detail?
Aside from being as vigilant as possible, you must realize that there are a lot of things out there that scare kids-- and that those things are just a click away. Yes, safeguard the hearts and minds of your little ones to the best of your ability, but also talk to them and make yourself available to them so that when they see or hear or are exposed to something frightening you will know about it and you can help them put that story and those images in perspective and as far into the back of their minds as possible.
I made the horrible mistake of letting a friend show me a video online of one of the hostages being beheaded. I did not make it through the full video and I can tell you that I truly regret having any part of those images in my head. The utter meanness and depravity and evil that I was momentarily exposed to is something that I can never erase or forget. I truly wish I did not have any portion of those images or sounds in my mind. But I do. I am a grown man with advanced degrees in human behavior and the abnormal facets of the ability of man to be abnormal, and those images and sounds haunt me when I close my eyes. I can’t imagine what those images and sounds would do to my little girl. I can’t imagine her trying to digest and comprehend the absolute worst of mankind and understand the impact of it on her little world. As her father, I can’t let her mental innocence be ripped from her anymore than I could her physical innocence.
Teachers and parents, there are no new evils in the world but those evils that exist are far more accessible than they have ever been. We live in a heightened state of awareness with varying threat levels and warnings and alerts, but we also live in a heightened state of exposure. You would never let your child or your student wander around the town alone. You know there are people out there that would hurt them. Neither should you let your child or your student wander the internet or the televsion alone. There are people and images and sounds out there that will hurt them, and those emotional pains are just as real as the physical ones far too many kids have had to endure.
Know what your kids and your students are seeing and hearing.
Guard and filter what little ones are exposed to and what they can access. But also be ready to talk and to rebuild the hopes of innocence and the need for safety when the “ news ” and images and videos make their way through your firewall and your television. Don’t leave what your kids see to chance, because there is far too much out there that should never be seen. But don’t put your head in the sand and just hope that they never see or hear what is going on in the world. The “ news ” scares me and I am a grown man with a good understanding of relativism and proximity. Little ones understand neither the context nor the intent of terror of the " news ". Some just know it is there and they end up scared beyond what is reasonable because there is nothing reasonable about what they have seen and heard.
Safeguard and vigilantly filter what enters your home and your classrooms and even then, talk to your kids. Help them understand that they are safe and they are guarded but more importantly, that you are there when they need to talk. You are there when they are frightened. You are there. You will be there. You can’t imagine the importance of this message. Let them hear it over and over. Guard their innocence and blanket them with the security of your words and presence. It is a mean world and they will know that soon enough. For now, let’s treasure the innocence of our children and cherish those moments of playfulness and silliness. There is nothing more therapeutic for the worrying mind than the innocent play of a child.