Most millennials can probably tell you exactly where they were on September 11, 2001. It was a cornerstone moment in world news, and it shaped future generations. Stories of the devastation were seen by billions worldwide, including countless young people. As one study explains: “After the World Trade Center attacks, children aged 5 through 18 who watched television without any restrictions had more severe stress symptoms than those whose viewing was restricted[1].”

Nearly a generation later, children consume even more media stories, given the heightened prevalence of digital media. It’s more important than ever to understand the effects of news coverage on children, teens and young adults, especially those with mood disorders.

Children under 6 years old engage in “magical thinking,” which can make media stories difficult for them to differentiate from reality. Children who see news of a terrorist attack in another country may be unable into understand that they are distanced from that event and are safe.

Children ages 7 through 11 can see more than one perspective and can think more logically about world events. However, they may not fully understand impact of devastating news. Children at this age are especially concerned with their own safety and the safety of their families.

Teenagers begin to show signs of more abstract thinking. Their increased ability to think creatively, take on multiple perspectives and focus on ethics allows them to digest news through a more discerning and critical lens. However, teenagers have heightened emotions, often driven by hormonal changes that may make serious news hard to put in perspective.

With the current news cycle and fears around coronavirus, it is easy to see how kids might feel an increased stress response. Ultimately it is important to consider the developmental age of your child and facilitate conversations that are age-appropriate. Often, it’s about giving the right amount of information and considering how your own feelings may shape the conversation. By staying emotionally grounded and focusing on the facts, you’ll be able to facilitate a more supportive, productive conversation within the family.

[1] Joshi, P. T., Parr, A. F., & Efron, L. A. (2008). TV Coverage of Tragedies: What is the Impact on Children? Indian Pediatrics45.

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