Model good news consumption habits.
News is like food, as Alvarez pointed out, and you teach your child good eating habits in part by modeling those habits. If you’re checking the news on your phone while the kids are eating breakfast, narrate your experience to them. Not word for word, of course, but explain that you are reading the news, and that the news helps you understand what’s happening in the world. As noted by Dr. Jenny Radesky, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan, and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement, you can encourage children’s engagement by mentioning topics of importance to them, whether it’s a new discovery in space or just the new “Frozen 2” trailer.
“I would recommend that parents find some slow time to read without distractions, sitting in a chair or sofa, and really put some concentration into it,” Dr. Radesky said. “We want kids to process important information this way — not multitasking, not just responding to what is the most exciting headline, not tweeting with anger about an article they half-read. We should show our kids that the news isn’t just entertaining and attention-grabbing, but it is a resource for making us better team players in our neighborhoods and our world, especially when we can really digest what is going on and think of solutions.”
And remember that, in 2020, the news might not have an off switch, but you still need to unplug. “We need to remind ourselves as parents to be grounded in order to be the best parents that we can be,” Alvarez said. “If you’re constantly bombarded by news, going from one social media platform to another, you will be overwhelmed. It’s in our control to say: ‘I’ve had enough today. I need to enjoy my kids.’”
Remember: Children can feed off your energy.
This is a tricky one. Even our youngest kiddos can sense when something is upsetting us — whether it’s something that happened at work, or the latest headline. “Kids are watching,” said Dr. Eugene V. Beresin, M.D., executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. “From the time they’re infants, they’re looking at your facial expressions. As toddlers, looking at how you react, your tone of voice. My dog doesn’t get on the couch when I watch news or sports, because I scream at the TV. He knows. A 5-year-old wouldn’t, either.”
If you get a troubling news alert during playtime, and it obviously affects your mood, explain the situation in the simplest terms, and again, reassure children that they are safe. “My kids would be like: ‘What happened? What happened?’” Murphy said. “I’d say: ‘Someone got hurt. It’s no one that we know.’” Explaining the source of your stress also reassures your children that the problem isn’t them.
When they’re ready: Investigate kid-friendly media outlets.
While your children might still be too young for, say, the daily paper or the evening news, they might be ready for deeper dives into newsy topics. Dr. Radesky recommends podcasts. “It could be about the slave trade, or the experience of immigrants,” she said. “It could be told from the perspective of the child, or you can dig into it from the perspective of a child.” The tone of podcasts is different from the news, too — calmer, less urgent, more inquisitive.
Common Sense has a helpful list of kid-friendly news outlets, arranged by age level. (Alvarez especially recommends Newsela, a free, bilingual website and app that provide different news readings for different grade levels.) These include print publications, online outlets and mobile apps (as well as The Learning Network from The Times). News-adjacent publications like Sports Illustrated for Kids can get children into the habit of reading about current events. (Bonus: Kids love getting mail.)