Images in the Media
Call me a softie, but when the NZ Transport Agency ‘Mistakes’ commercial for safe driving comes on, I turn away, plug my ears and hum a happy tune. The desperate anguish of the father upon realising the inevitable crash, the helplessness of the other driver and the innocence of the boy passenger are all too much for me to bear. Sadly for me, despite my quick attempt to avoid it, even knowing it is still on is enough to trigger feelings of sadness and injustice.
I have been like this for as long as I can remember – quick to tears at any distressing scenes, real or dramatised, unable to stomach boxing matches or replays of sporting injuries. I have taken to listening to the news on the radio rather than watch it on TV, as scenes of natural disaster and the victims of conflict across the globe are instantly in my lounge room. It affects me and I know that I need to protect myself.
Graphic images have been brought into our living rooms and onto our devices via the media over the last few weeks, and will continue to do so. As an adult, I have the power to control the influence that media has on my life. I can choose what to tune into and what to watch, and I can look after myself. Young people, however, may not be able to do so or may not yet realise the harmful effect it could have on them.
As adults we all want our children to live carefree lives and to keep them from the pain and suffering of tragedies such as terrorist attacks. In reality, this is not always possible. Even the best constraints around home viewing and conversations will not be able to curtail the potential wider influence of these events on young people.
Here are some ideas that may assist:
1. Reassure children that they are safe.
The images can be frightening for young children who don’t understand the notion of distance. Let them know that while this event is indeed happening it will not affect them directly. Using a map to show older children where it happened can also be helpful.
2. Explain what happened.
It is important not to simply assume that children and young people understand what’s happened. Be calm, take care to avoid bias and stick to the facts. This can help them process what they see and hear.
3. Be available.
Let them know that it is okay to talk about the unpleasant events. Listen to what they think and feel. By listening, you can find out if they have misunderstandings, and you can learn more about the support that they need. You do not need to explain more than they are ready to hear, but be willing to answer their questions.
4. Support children’s concerns for others.
They may have genuine concerns for the suffering that will occur and they may need an outlet for those concerns. Draw their attention to the volunteers and helpers that are present in these situations. It can be reassuring for them to realise that help is at hand.
5. Let them explore feelings beyond fear.
Many children may feel sad or even angry with these events so let them express the full range of emotions. Consider sharing how these events make you feel as well, so they know that they are not alone.
Remember that there are many good resources to assist your parenting in these challenging situations. Kristin’s Health and Wellness Centre has a number of qualified counsellors on hand to support students and adults in times of need. Similarly, our Chapel team are available for a conversation and advice.
There is a plethora of websites designed to offer parenting resources; my thanks to Parenting Ideas for their material on this topic.
Ultimately, children and young people will take their cues from the adults around them so be aware of your own actions and reactions. Let them know that it is happening and how it is affecting you, but that it should not dominate their lives. While it may be difficult, look for the silver lining and make time to celebrate what’s right with the world.