How to avoid the news scaring a preteen Hong Kong child curious about the world around her

24-hour news cycle means there is no longer an evening watershed for violent or frightening content in news bulletins, and internet is worse; newspapers and news shows geared to children offer a solution

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 7:47am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 7:47am

My daughter is very interested in world affairs and is encouraged by her Year Six teacher to read newspapers. She sometimes watches television news with me but I feel some of it is not appropriate. I don’t want to shelter her but neither do I want to scare her by exposing her to frightening images.

It’s pleasing that your daughter is interested in world news at such a young age. This attitude of curiosity is key to being an active and successful learner. Many primary-school children show little interest in current affairs as friends, computers and personal interests tend to be their top priorities. Some students may feel under pressure academically and consider it a waste of time if not directly related to their studies.

Parents need to limit children's screen time

World news broadcast on television can certainly be frightening and very sobering at times, even for adults. The current nature of news means it is difficult for TV stations to operate a watershed policy, making it impossible to avoid stories and images that may distress young viewers. Studies do show that violence on television has an adverse affect on the way children think and act. Repetitive violence can be very disturbing to a young mind and can lead to children becoming argumentative, less willing to cooperate and more likely to use aggressive strategies to solve their problems.

With this in mind, it is important that parents do monitor TV viewing, including news programmes. However, there is a fine line between encouraging children to be aware of world issues and allowing them to be exposed to things that will horrify them.

If your daughter is keen to watch the TV news you could check it earlier in day to see if you are happy with the content. Parents have different ideas about what is suitable and what they want to censor, and you have to feel comfortable with your decisions. At least if you watch it together you have the opportunity to explain confusing or upsetting material. Beware of news sources on the internet – they can be a good resource but can also, in some cases, be more liable to show shocking visual images.

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Although the news tends to focus on bad things happening in the world, current affairs are not just about crime and war; there are many interesting and positive features. Encourage your daughter to watch the inspirational side of TV, such as the Discovery Channel and programmes about space, technology, the environment and new discoveries. There are also children’s news programmes from around the world that you may be able to access.

Adult newspapers can be rather dry, so your daughter could subscribe to one of the children’s daily newspapers on offer in Hong Kong or abroad. These are now often online and cater for a range of ages and interests. They are usually attractively and clearly presented, and would put your mind at rest as to her exposure.

Reading and discussing interesting news articles with your daughter will not only help to develop her higher order reading skills, such as inference and deduction, but will also extend her verbal and critical thinking skills. Talk with her about the difference between fact and opinion, different viewpoints and the power of headlines. This may inspire her to join debating groups at secondary school.

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If your daughter’s school follows an inquiry curriculum, I am not surprised that she is encouraged to take an active interest in world news. In schools following the International Baccalaureate curriculum, an important part of the Year Six Exhibition (an independent learning project culminating in a presentation) is an awareness of local and global affairs. The students are encouraged to take an issue they feel passionate about, make connections, look at issues from different perspectives and take some personal action.

There are many advantages to your daughter broadening her horizons. She will be aware of different countries and cultures, helping her to be internationally minded. She will have the ability to make links with the outside world, therefore making her learning more real and relevant and have the tools to make a positive difference in her own life as an adult in a constantly changing world.

Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary-school teacher