How Parents can Reduce Negative Feelings Related to Violent News Events
The violent events in Paris have led to a giant wave of violent news coverage, which also reaches children. An earlier -but now extremely relevant- study in Communication Research investigated the emotional impact of a violent news event on children, and how parents dealt with the event. The study showed that the exposure to news about the assassination of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh related to more intense feelings of fear, worry, anger, and sadness in children (8-12 y/o).
The study also showed that parents who explain and discuss the content of the news coverage can reduce their child’s emotional responses to such violent news events. However, for children younger than 7 y/o, parents should be very careful in discussing the news.
- Exposure to violent news events is strongly related to negative feelings in children, such as fear, worry, anger, sadness.
- Parents can modify the emotional impact of violent news events:
- Parents who explain and discuss the news coverage of violent news events can reduce their child’s emotional responses to the news;
- whereas parents who try to control and restrict their child’s exposure to the news coverage may increase their child’s response to such a news event.
- an explanation is that children will be exposed to the ubiquitous news anyway, and need the discussion with their parents to cope with their emotions.
- However, before starting the discussion, parents should carefully find out if their child was indeed exposed to the news, otherwise the discussion might have the opposite effect.
- These results can also be relevant for others involved in children's daily care: they should be aware of their significant role in explaining and discussing the content of violent news events to children.
Is children’s exposure to violent news event coverage related to negative feelings (i.e., fear, worry, anger, and sadness)? And do parental media restrictions influence these feelings?
514 8-to 12-year-old children (mean age 10 years old; 52% were boys)
All children filled out a paper-and-pencil questionnaire that revealed their exposure to the news coverage of Theo van Gogh’s assassination (a Dutch filmmaker and columnist), their emotional response to this event, and the rules and regulations set by their parents to control their exposure to the news coverage. Two types of parental mediation of children’s responses to the news coverage were assessed: (1) active mediation (i.e., explanations and discussions about the assassination of Theo van Gogh), and (2) restrictive mediation (i.e., rules to control children’s exposure to the news coverage).
Facts and findings
- Exposure to the news coverage of Theo van Gogh’s assassination was related to more feelings of fear, worry, anger, and sadness in children.
- Children who perceived their parents to actively discuss and explain the news about Theo van Gogh’s assassination reported less negative feelings related to the news event than children whose parents applied less or no active mediation.
- On the contrary, children whose parents applied rules to control their exposure to the news coverage of Theo van Gogh’s assassination reported more intense feelings of fear and worry than children who received less or no restrictive mediation.
- For children who had not been exposed to the news, active mediation had the opposite effect. The authors suggest that in these cases parental discussion had probably been their primary source of information, leading to the negative emotions.
- Critical note: This study does not allow for any conclusions about cause (news coverage of a violent news event and parental mediation) and effect (children’s negative feelings). The results only show that news coverage of a violent news events is associated with more negative feelings in children.