I’ll never forget the day I witnessed the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. I was just 11, but those images stayed with me for years and I became paranoid about my safety and the people around me.
It took me more than a decade to realise that I had been traumatised by the persistent news I watched in the weeks and months following. It seemed unlikely that I, a child on the other side of the world, would be impacted by a disaster so far from home. But recent research shows that news such as this is causing distress and trauma for nearly half of all children.
In a world saturated with social media and smartphones, kids have more access to the news than ever before. But, according to the Children and Families Research Centre at Macquarie University and The Australia Trauma and Grief Network, this isn’t without consequences.
Children who watch excessive amounts of traumatic news, such as terrorist attacks, kidnappings, natural disasters or murders, can experience fear about their own safety, disrupting sleep and affecting their school work. Other studies have found that separation anxiety and PTSD can also occur in children following these events. One study showed that 7% of young adults were still distressed by events they witnessed through the media as a child.
How do we protect children from this without completely shielding them from reality? We can start by limiting their viewing time. Child-friendly versions, such as ABC3’s Behind the News, are a good option, but remember your child will also hear about events on social media and through their friends.
If your child is watching the news, watch it too, so you can answer questions, explain what’s happening and reassure him or her if need be. It’s important to keep distressing world events in perspective for them, reminding them that good things happen too.
Don’t be afraid to switch the channel or turn the TV off. You might even keep them from watching the news completely if it distresses them.
If your child or young person appears often distressed by the news, think about taking them to see a professional. The short- and long-term effects of this kind of trauma can impact mental health, so talk to a GP or counsellor about how to best support your child.