Common Sense Media recently produced some fascinating research about children and news in America. A few things stood out to me as particularly significant about this research that ought to influence how we, as adults, interact with the young people in our lives.
First, 48% of children say that the news is important to them. So many children have virtually unlimited media sources right in the palms of their hands, and if the news is important to them, they are going to start looking for information.
When I was young, we did not have Internet until I was in middle school, and we did not subscribe to our local newspaper. As a result, if I wanted news, it was on the evening news, which I remember watching, but I certainly did not have the ease of accessibility that many children have today.
Even with this vast amount of news outlets available from their cell phones or tablets, children do not necessarily trust news outlets right away. Only 25% of these children say that they trust news sources “a lot.” On the other hand, 66% of these children say that they trust information received from their family, “a lot.”
What we have here is a generation of children who have all the access they could possibly want, but even they are skeptical of the information they might come across. Of course, the families are getting whatever news they share with the children from the same news sources, but the children trust that much more when family members are the source of the information.
That puts a lot of responsibility then on family members. That one additional layer of filtering from family members substantially influences what children believe and are willing to accept as factual news. Let’s make sure that we are family members who do our homework and make sure that we are sharing true information with children in our lives. Particularly as Christians, we claim to follow the Truth, so we need to make sure that we do all we can to honor that commitment.
Second, the news is apparently having an emotional impact on children. 63% of children said that the news makes them, “feel afraid, angry, and/or sad or depressed.” We can’t pretend that children are prepared to deal with all of our adult issues, but they have access to all the news they could possibly want, and not all of it is very positive or uplifting.
As a result, the adults in these children’s lives need to be involved. Don’t just leave your child to wander around in the world of media alone. Talk to your child about the news. There is legitimate bad news that happens every day in the world, and I’m not suggesting that we entirely shelter our children from everything. Rather, I am suggesting that, as adults, we stay involved in children’s lives and talk to them about what they see and read.
Again, if particularly family members are so important in influencing what children believe, then it seems to me that when they read something particularly troubling, we also ought to be there to help them understand and deal with the issues that they encounter. If they see something troubling, then families have the responsibility to help them process these stories that perhaps they had not seen or heard about before. If the family doesn’t do it, who is going to do it? For my Christian readers, parents are very specifically commanded to be responsible for raising children, and this is an important area of helping your child learn about the world around them no matter how good or bad the news is. Parents have that responsibility to develop adults.
It would be naïve to think that children are not going to interact with the media. I know I did not grow up with an awful lot of media, but I don’t know that that is really a realistic scenario anymore. Therefore, if I had to choose one thing to stand out in this survey, it would definitely be: