CHILDREN AND THE NEWS
More than ever, children witness innumerable, sometimes traumatizing,
news occasions on TV. It seems that violent crime plus bad news is unabating.
International wars, natural disasters, terrorism, killers, incidents of child abuse,
plus medical epidemics flood our newscasts daily. Not to mention the grim
wave of recent school shootings.
All this intrudes on the innocent world of kids. If, as psychologists
say, children are like sponges and absorb everything that goes on around them,
how greatly does watching TV news actually impact them? How careful do
mother and father need to be in monitoring the circulation of news into the home, and how can
they find an approach that works?
To answer these questions, we all turned to a panel of experienced anchors, Peter
Jennings, Maria Shriver, Linda Ellerbee, and Jane Pauley–each having faced the
complexities of raising their own vulnerable children in a news-saturated
Picture this: 6: 30 p. m. After a good exhausting day at the office, Mom is usually busy
making dinner. She parks her 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son in front
of the TV.
“Play Nintendo until dinner’s ready, inch she instructs the little ones, who else,
instead, start flipping channels.
Ben Brokaw on “NBC News Tonight, ” announces that an Atlanta gunman
has killed his wife, child and son, all three having a hammer, before going on
a capturing rampage that leaves nine dead.
On “World News Tonight, ” Peter Jennings reports that a jumbo jetliner with
more than 300 travellers crashed in a spinning metal fireball at a Hong Kong
On CNN, there’s a report about the earthquake in Turkey, with 2, 000
On the Discovery channel, there are a timely special on hurricanes as well as the
terror they create in children. Hurricane Dennis has already struck, Floyd is
Finally, they see a local news report about a tool coaster accident at a New
Jersey amusement park that kills the mother and her eight-year-old child.
Nintendo was never this captivating.
“Dinner’s ready! ” shouts Mom, unaware that her children may be terrified
by this menacing potpourri of TV news.
What’s wrong with this picture?
“There’s a LOT incorrect with it, but it’s not that effortlessly fixable, ” notes Linda
Ellerbee, the creator and host associated with “Nick News, ” the award winning news
program geared for kids age groups 8-13, airing on Nickelodeon.
“Watching blood and gore on TV is not really good for kids and it doesn’t perform
much to enhance the lives associated with adults either, ” says the particular anchor, who strives to
inform children about world events without terrorizing them. “We’re into
stretching kids’ brains and there’s nothing we all wouldn’t cover, ” including
latest programs on euthanasia, the Kosovo crisis, prayer in schools, book-
banning, the death penalty, plus Sudan slaves.
But Ellerbee emphasizes the necessity of parental supervision, protecting
children from unfounded fears. “During the Oklahoma City bombing, there
were terrible images of children being harm and killed, ” Ellerbee recalls. “Kids
wanted to know if they were safe in their beds. In studies conducted by
Nickelodeon, we discovered that kids find the news probably the most frightening thing
“Whether it’s the Gulf War, the Clinton scandal, a downed jetliner, or what
happened in Littleton, you have to reassure your children, over and over again,
that they’re going to end up being OK–that the reason this story can be news is that IT
ALMOST NEVER HAPPENS. News is the exception… nobody goes on the environment
happily and reports how many aeroplanes landed safely!
“My job would be to put the information into an age-appropriate context and lower
anxieties. Then it’s really up to the parents to monitor exactly what their kids watch
and discuss this with them”
Yet a new study of the role of media in the lives of children conducted by
the Henry J. Kaiser Family Basis reveals that 95% of the nation’s children
ages 8-18 are watching television without their parents present.
How does Ellerbee view the typical scenario of the harried mother above?
“Mom’s taking a beating here. Where’s Dad? inch Ellerbee asks. Perhaps at work,
or even living separately from Mom, or absent altogether.
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“Right. Most Parents are working as hard as they can because we
live in a modern society where one income just doesn’t cut it anymore, ”
NBC News correspondent Maria Shriver, mom of four–Katherine,
13, Christina, 12, Patrick, 10, and Christopher, 6–agrees with Ellerbee: “But
usually are using the TV as a babysitter mainly because they’re out getting manicures! inch
says the 48-year-old anchor.
“Those mothers are struggling to make payments and they do it because
they need assist. I don’t think kids would be viewing [as much TV] if their
parents were home organizing a touch football game.
“When I need the TV as a babysitter, ” says Shriver, who leaves detailed TV-
viewing guidelines behind when traveling, “I placed on a safe video. I no longer mind
that my kids have watched “Pretty Woman” or “My Greatest Friend’s Wedding”
3, 000 times. I’d be more fearful if they viewed an hour of local news. That will
would scare them. They might really feel: ‘Oh, my God, is somebody going to come
in and shoot me in my bedroom? ‘”
Inside a move to supervise her own children a lot more closely since her husband,
Arnold Schwarzenegger, became Governor, Shriver