Children are aware of what’s happening around them and in the world — usually more than we know. Between social media, television news and friends at school, they are constantly exposed to information about current events.
As parents and educators, we play an important role in helping our children understand the world they see. Though topics such as war, political protests and issues of inequity are difficult to explain, even young children are capable of comprehending issues of fairness if adults break down the information in ways that make sense for them.
Here are some things we as parents and educators can do to make sure our children are receiving accurate information that is age appropriate:
Monitor their access to information. In raising our children to be active and engaged citizens, it’s important to have conversations about what’s happening in the world. But parents need to consider where children are developmentally before exposing them to information that can be overwhelming and confusing. You should monitor what your children are reading, listening to and watching. Be sure to hold private adult conversations out of hearing range and consider setting up parental controls on electronic devices, including your television, so you can be primary source — and filter — for current events.
Be honest. Misinformation is all around us. It’s easy for children to pick up incorrect information from friends, social media or even the adults in their lives. Parents and educators should be reliable resources for children when they have questions, though you should limit information to only what they need to know at the moment. Ask children what they already know, or think they know about a topic, and go from there. Remember to make a conscious effort to avoid transferring your own anxieties to them or reinforcing stereotypes.
Be mindful of their age. Developmentally, children change all the time, especially at the elementary school age. A fourth grader’s capacity to understand what they’re seeing on the news is going to differ significantly than that of a first grader. Keeping age in mind, answer questions without diving into overwhelming details. With older children, adults need to help them critically examine news and information by teaching them to consider the credibility of the information and its source and by having conversations with children about the importance of checking facts and seeking information from multiple sources. Remember that most of the time, when children ask difficult questions, they are really seeking our reassurance that we as adults are here to protect and support them.
Lean into your discomfort. Many questions children bring up can feel uncomfortable or awkward for adults to discuss, but we should not avoid those conversations. If your child feels that you’re not open to having them, they’ll look elsewhere, increasing the risk of receiving misinformation from other sources (friends, social media, etc.) As parents and educators, we want to be the ones that they come to for guidance.
Know it’s OK not to have all the answers. It’s OK to say you don’t know why things like bombings or shootings happen. It’s difficult for anyone to comprehend why these things happen. If you don’t know something, model how your children might get more information about a topic — encourage them to learn more.
If you need a little extra support answering your child’s tough questions, there are many resources available, from trusted online sources (I often point parents to pbs.org and commonsensemedia.org) or from your child’s school; teachers, counselors and principals are here to help.
These conversations can be difficult, but they are not impossible. Engaging in honest and age-appropriate conversations about current events is an important part of educating and preparing our children for the greater world. And we want our children to know that we are the best resource to come to when seeking more information.
Together, parents and educators have the power — and the duty — to raise informed, engaged citizens.