How much news should we share with our kids?

Discussion of world events needs to be age appropriate.
Discussion of world events needs to be age appropriate.  Photo: Shutterstock

Within a minute of turning on the television, the words "Las Vegas shooting" came up on the screen, atop a grainy video image of the deadly scene.

Without hesitation, I hit the off switch; my nine- and five-year-old children were on the couch next to me, and I wasn't sure what shocking imagery or words might come up that would scare them.

It's a natural parental instinct: to protect our children from anything that might worry them. We wish our offspring had been born into a world where violence didn't happen, where equality was a worldwide reality, and where hate didn't exist.

But those are, unfortunately, fanciful dreams and we must prepare our children for the reality of their world.

It needs to be done in an age appropriate way, though.

The younger kids

For my kids, turning off the news about the Las Vegas shooting was the right move.

Martine Oglethorpe, child psychologist at The Modern Parent, says, "Toddlers, pre-schoolers and lower primary aged children don't understand context, and for them it's all about the here and now."

"While they're little, we should shield them (from all news) because they're very insular. They don't need to know, because they don't have the maturity to process it or to understand what it means for them."


While it's tricky to place clear age guidelines on when it's safe for children to be exposed to the news, the Raising Children Network has some ideas around this. They suggest that watching the television news under the age of five is too scary and may lead to kids copying violent behaviour as they can't comprehend it as separate from their reality.

Primary school aged kids

My nine-year-old, however, had read the headline before I could switch the TV off.

"What was that about?" she asked. I took her aside and chatted about the news breaking out of Las Vegas; it felt more appropriate to talk it through, rather than put uncontrolled images in front of her.

School aged children are more able to determine that what they're seeing is real, which can in turn be confronting and frightening for them.

"As they get older, kids are more likely to think through the likelihood of things happening to them," says Oglethorpe. "They'll start to ask more questions as they become more curious about what these things mean."

"They need to know that the likelihood (of it happening to them) is very small."

Oglethorpe says it's also a good time to think about instilling some critical thinking into your child's skills base. "Ask them questions about what they think," she says. "Take the lead from your child. What do they need to know about an issue? What questions are they asking? And what are the answers they can developmentally handle?"

"We need to use their language."

Into the teen years

By the time they reach their teenage years, kids are expected to understand not just the communities surrounding them, but also the world on a wider scale.

And there's no doubt that parents of teens will take a different approach to parents of younger kids, when it comes to the news out of Las Vegas. Older kids are exposed to not just the news, but the cycle of opinions and analysis that has inevitably followed.

"This is why asking questions and developing that critical thinking through the earlier years and into their teens is so important," says Oglethorpe. "We want them to not take everything at face value."

There is one rule of thumb, though, that's good to remember for all children and parents. That is, while discussing and making some sense of the bad news is important and can't be shielded from your child forever, try to end on a positive note.

Oglethorpe says, "When your child goes to bed at night, try to make sure that the last conversation you have is positive so that they go to bed with good thoughts."