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How to Talk to Your Kids About the News

Use these smart strategies to discuss current events with your tweens and teens.
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Illustration by Ronald J. Cala

Crime. Recession. Terrorism. Tsunamis. In our digital age, the news—much of it big, scary and confusing—is everywhere, all the time. And whether it's on television or radio, in print or online, tweens and teens are constantly exposed to disturbing stories, images and videos that can cause them to view the planet as a threatening, terrifying place. "On the one hand, we want our kids to know what's going on around them," says Michael Brody, M.D., chair of the television and media committee for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "Problem is, the news is not rated. A lot of it is sensational, horror-story stuff, which means parents need to put things in perspective." Learn how to talk to your kids about current events, from natural disasters to politics to war, with these smart strategies. You'll calm their fears and help them make better sense of those screaming headlines. Plus, it's a starting point for a deeper, ongoing dialogue that will expand their minds and get them thinking about their role and responsibility in the real world.

Find an Opening

It may seem obvious, but you can't discuss the news with your kids until you're aware of exactly what they know. So the next time your tween or teen mentions a particular topic or event—at dinner, in the car, while watching TV—seize the moment and ask casually what she's heard about it. If need be, you can also initiate a conversation by saying something like "There's been a lot of coverage about those campus shootings. Are kids at school talking about it?"

Expressing an interest in what her friends are thinking is a good way to get her to open up, since adolescents are more likely to share thoughts and ideas that they've already discussed with peers. But don't be impatient if your child seems tight-lipped or flippant. "Sometimes teens don't ask questions—or they crack jokes about serious issues—because they're struggling with intense emotions like anger, anxiety or sadness but can't identify them," says Ernestine Briggs-King, Ph.D., a director at the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress at Duke University. Parents, she suggests, can help kids sort things out by making supportive, encouraging comments such as "You keep bringing that subject up. How is it making you feel?"