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How to Talk to Your Kids About the News

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Clear Up Confusion
Talking to kids about news illustration
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Illustration by Ronald J. Cala

When a major event happens, it's all too easy for kids to get the story wrong. They might hear half-truths from friends, glimpse a misleading headline or catch only the most sensationalist teaser on TV—and then start spreading the news. "Super-scary stories have enormous traction among tweens and teens because they're at an age when emotions are highly contagious," says psychologist Dave Walsh, Ph.D., author of Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids (Free Press).

You can help prevent misconceptions by monitoring your kids' exposure to the headlines. Share the morning paper with them over breakfast, listen to informative programs on the radio or watch them together on TV. "But don't just come home and turn on the news, especially when a crisis has occurred," says Brody. That's when grim, often violent footage is replayed in a seemingly endless loop, and adolescents can develop an excessive fascination even though it scares them.

Walsh recommends that parents battle back with their kids' favorite tool—the Internet. "Tell your middle or high schooler to look up multiple sources of the story. Ask him to compare the conflicting information that is sure to come up, which version he decides to believe, and how he reached that conclusion," Walsh says. "That will spark a genuine conversation instead of shutting it down, which is often what happens when a parent says, 'Let's talk about so-and-so.'" From there you can broaden the lesson into one about the role and responsibility of news organizations. "Explain that media outlets want to grab our attention," says Walsh. "That's why they'll run a story about an abducted child over and over—it's an extraordinarily rare crime, but it's everyone's worst nightmare. Eventually kids will learn how to figure out the big picture and get to the truth of a story themselves. It's a golden opportunity."