The news of the world can be scary for children and teens (and adults for that matter). Whether it’s rioting in the U.S. Capitol, looting in the streets of Portland, or people dying of COVID in the hospitals of New York, images of out-of-control behavior and death can be terrifying. When my son was a young teenager, he loved to watch horror movies but dashed out of the room at the first sight of the nightly news. He understood that it was real and it scared him because he imagined that someone else’s reality could extend into his world.
Children, teens, and anxiety sufferers tend to personalize what they see. News footage can capture one’s imagination and when the same story is repeated countless times, it is amplified. Viewers can worry that what they see on the screen can happen to them. And it could! But the vast majority of time it does not.
Worry requires content; something to feed the imagination. If you or your child tend to worry, the news is an endless source of material. Like removing oxygen from a fire to extinguish it, the quickest way to reduce anxiety is to stop watching what makes you anxious. If the news triggers your imagination, turn it off! To protect your children from needless fear, do not watch the news in common areas of the house. If there is nothing to be achieved by consuming the news on social media, be mindful of what you watch and the amount.
If your child sees news on social media and seems upset, talk with them about what they saw and what is worrying them. Validate their feeling - “that is very scary.” Reassure them that they are not in danger of what they watched. Tell them that what they imagine will happen is unlikely. And then insist they stop watching. Just like you would advise your child not to watch a horror movie that might cause nightmares, tell them not watch the news.
About the Author
Ken Goodman, LCSW, treats anxiety and OCD in Los Angeles. He is the author of The Anxiety Solution Series: Your Guide to Overcoming Panic, Worry, Compulsions and Fear, A Step-by-Step Self-help Audio Program, Break Free from Anxiety, a coloring, self-help book for anxiety sufferers, and the Emetophobia Manual, for those who suffer with the fear of vomit. Ken Goodman is an ADAA board member and Clinical Fellow. Visit Ken's website.