Kids need reassurance over news reports

Last updated 16:34 24/07/2014

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Television images of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash and slain Palestinian children need parental guidance, an expert says.

More than a quarter of the 298 crash victims were children. The same percentage of slain Palestinians in Gaza over the past week were under the age of 18.

John Cowan, a parent educator for 20 years, said it was up to parents to reassure their children that they wouldn't be next.

"It's an adult's job to worry about some of these things," Cowan said.

While younger children worried about separation from their parents, older children worried about home invasion and could become concerned with security, he said.

Parents needed to limit children's exposure to news media coverage of disasters and conflict, and talk to them about what they were seeing, he said.

"The skills we have for interpreting news aren't innate, they're learned," Cowan said.

He drew from his own experience at an intermediate school during terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when children mistook "Washington" for "Wellington".

Cowan said it was important for parents to correct children's misunderstandings and provide balance to sensationalist media coverage.

"News sometimes relies on emotional content to draw people in. Often hotheads will be interviewed who are crying for blood.

"I would contend the vast majority of adults can distinguish between sensationalism and hard facts, whereas younger kids may not.

"Most adults have developed cynicism - they know news is driven by ratings and advertising."

During ad breaks, parents should turn down the volume and engage in discussion with their children about what they had seen, reassuring them of New Zealand's relative safety if they had been alarmed by footage, he said.

"For any of us, when you hear news of two or three airline disasters, you have a heightened awareness of the possibility, even though the statistics show airlines are safer now than ever."

Child psychologist Cherin Abdelaal Selim agreed "absolutely, 100 per cent" that parents should limit children's exposure to graphic media coverage.

Clients who had come to her with anxiety, sleep disturbance and behavioural problems after the Canterbury earthquakes, had those issues triggered again by reports of natural and human-led disasters, Selim said.

Most of these clients were girls aged 7 to 12, although this was not necessarily representative of the population, she said.

She used cognitive behavioural therapy to help children work through their fears, which included fear of natural disasters, bombings and war.

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This involved getting them to focus on their thoughts and how these affected their feelings and behaviour, as well as to identify physical reactions, over about eight to 12 sessions.

Success depended largely on parents' motivation to help their children practise the therapy at home, she said.

- Stuff


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