Dr. Corinne Masur
In a recent New York Times article, a question was asked: What is this recent violent news cycle doing to us? I will take the question one step further and ask, what is the violent news cycle doing to us as parents?
That article suggests that we’re all affected by exposure to violence in news that we receive from constant social media blasts, and the author cites a study that found that extroverts, “those described with outgoing personalities,” were found to be more vulnerable to the violent imagery than others. Moreover, the article states that the greater the exposure, the greater the effect.
So what can we parents do to protect ourselves, to protect our parenting abilities, and to protect our children from the powerful effects of overexposure to violence in the news?
Our ability to function in the present can be damaged by anxiety, including worry over violence in our own neighborhoods and cities and in our world in general. Anxiety causes us to be preoccupied and less emotionally available. And we all know that parenting well requires that we be emotionally available and responsive to our children in the moment.
We are less effective as parents, as partners, and as workers at our jobs when we are worried and stressed. And when we are exposed to repeated reports of violence, we are prone to becoming preoccupied regarding our own safety and that of our children. We may worry about whether it is safe to go out, safe to fly in an airplane, safe to go to a large gathering, or just safe to be in our own homes. Our children may notice our worried expressions and our lack of emotional availability, and they are likely to wonder why we are feeling this way. Furthermore, our worry may be contagious. Our children look to us for their security. If they sense that we are anxious, they are likely to feel less safe and more anxious themselves.
So, again, the question is, what can we do to manage our own anxiety so that we can be available to our children, avoid transmitting our anxiety to our children, and feel safe enough in our world to be good parents?
This is an extraordinarily difficult challenge right now.
We cannot completely ignore world events. Unfortunately we cannot protect ourselves from the reality of what is happening in our communities, our country, and our world. We cannot control the violence that occurs.
And one thing that is known, is that the inability to control negative stimuli is one of the most anxiety producing situations for human beings.
So if we cannot control the violence in the world, is there something that we CAN control? The answer is yes. We can control our consumption of social media if we choose. If it makes us feel less anxious and less stressed, we can cut back on our media intake by checking our phones and our computers less frequently each day. We can take a day each week for a news blackout, when we don’t check our social media for what’s going on in the world. We can turn off CNN and we can watch or listen to the news once a day rather than constantly.
And as for our parenting, during these stressful times, we can set aside “dedicated time” to spend with our children. As unpopular as this may be initially, we can insist they put away their phones and iPads and computers for a few hours each weekend day and for a few hours each weekday night – AND WE CAN DO SO OURSELVES. We can plan activities to do with our children to reassure ourselves that enjoyment is possible, even in this difficult time. And specifically, we can dedicate some time each day to talk with our children about what’s going on in the world. Starting at around age 5 and continuing through adolescence, our children have an awareness of events in the community and the world. We can find out what they know, we can ask their opinions, and we can talk to them about better and worse ways to handle the problems facing our communities. We can monitor their media diets and, with older children and young adolescents, we can be present when they watch or listen to some news stories. Cutting back on media exposure, being listened to, and engaging in discussions can help children and parents alike feel more in control and less anxious.