Watching the News – is it a do or don’t for your teenager (& you)
Updated: Oct 20, 2021
We are surrounded by the news 24-7. It has become a major part of most people’s daily habits especially since the start of the COVID pandemic. And while we may view it as a “good thing to do” especially the youth in society as away of building a sense of citizenship and social conscience, I encourage us all to rethink this and approach the news more mindfully.
It may sound severe but there is psychological evidence to suggest that there is a link between watching/listening to the news frequently and lower mood, higher anxiety levels, sleep disturbances to name a few issues. And it is also linked to experiencing “mean world syndrome”. George Gerbiner first researched this and based on his work suggested that news consumers who are exposed to violence related content can experience a rise in their sense of fear and be more prone to a pessimistic outlook. They were also more link to have a heightened state of alertness which lowered their overall wellbeing.
There is further research that claims that watching violent related news reports was inked to a rise in aggressive behaviour, a desensitization to violent behaviour, nightmares and a fear of being harmed. Another study in 2018 found that there was clear evidence for the link between disaster TV viewing and fear of being harmed. This all reads very worryingly and may lead us to think that the news is really bad for us and our children definitely should not be exposed to any of it!
However before we all ban the news from our homes, we need to consider how the information is being fed to us and how we can control these feeds and what we do with the information.
Firstly, how the information is being fed to us. These days it is coming at us from all angles which is truly unnecessary. We are to remind ourselves that we are not in imminent danger of a natural disaster occurring and do not need to be the first to know that there’s been a stock market crash in Japan. Secondly, we are to balance up our view of the world which is to based on other sources other than just news feeds. We are actually living at the time of greatest safety and wealth on our planet with approximately 137,000 people being lifted out pf poverty on a daily basis. (While this sounds brilliant, I’d like to note that there are still a vast number of people approx. 1.3 billion living in extreme poverty right now). However to come back to the point I’m making, there is a need for balance. Thirdly we are to accept that our daily news consumption is that of the exceptions in our world and unfortunately the tragedies of humankind.
While there are issues with how the news is presented to us in terms of it being sensationalised to grab our attention and it also tends to spend a disproportionate amount of time on events that are rare and exceptions rather than the norm.
Many A Level teachers will encourage their students to be daily news consumers because this a great strategy for enhancing their awareness of relevant issues that relate to the A Level subject matter. Being on the pulse of current affairs can be provide great insight for students studying Economics, Business, Law, Sociology and help them develop ideal critical thinking skills as needed to excel in their qualifications. So it is a worthwhile activity for students in terms of academic progress and success.
So should my teenager consume the news or not?
Firstly, it is key to note that we control what news we consume so on the whole, I think that it is useful for young people to engage with the events of the world, country and local region. It is more about how they choose to consume it and what impact it has on them. What can you do to help buffer your teenager from the potential psychological perils of the news? Most importantly, it is for you to raise the issue with them and explore what is the impact of the news in their day, on their outlook and wellbeing. You may do this by following these ideas:
1 – Check in with your teenager on when and how they access the news
2 – Discuss with them why they want to consume the news and what the benefits are for them.
3 – Continue the conversation to explore what are the downsides of news consumption. And explore what happens when (or if) they ever get caught up in a news feed online that is very emotive or controversial and what they can do to wean themselves off it.
4 – How can they be in control of how the news impacts them and how they can make sure it meets their desires and needs (school expectations?)
Then encourage them to review their consumption of the news, here are a few more suggestions on what may help them get the best out of their news consumptions without being affected by the details.
Suggestions for supporting your teen to engage with the news more healthily:
1. Switch off the news app notifications on the mobile phone so that these are not the first thing they see when they look at their phone.
2. Consciously decide the time of day to check in on the news and agree that once a day is enough
3. Discuss how the time day we consume the news can influence our ability to switch in the evenings. Ideally agree to avoid news consumption in the evenings near bedtime.
4. How to cope with distressing news reports
a. Acknowledge that we have an automatic thought process to be biased towards negativity. This is found in all people and is explained as part our species survival toolkit. This means we will be more prone to focus on the bad, sad and the scary bits but that we can equally
b. Consider how rare these events actually are in life. While there is likely to be tragedy and loss and sadness, we can empathise with the people from afar, we are to focus on our own lives.
c. Consider how the media will sensationalise the details to grab attention & that these resorts are not always balanced and this feeds our negativity bias!
d. Explore the benefits of referring to more than one media feed for the news as this can provide an alternative view on an event. This can be quite interesting activity to compare how two different newspapers will report on an event, for example, the discovery of more non national arriving on British shores unknown to the authorities. In a few clicks online, it is easy to find this one event reported in several different ways, each sone taking a different stance illegal immigrant, desperate asylum seekers, victims of human trafficker)
And if you want to balance up your news consumption with more positive news stories, then subscribe to the fantastic publication, the Happy Newspaper, here’s the link to the gorgeous website: The Happy Newspaper this is a fabulous newspaper that transmit joy and goodwill and reports authentic news stories on the good stuff happening in the world.
For more relevant tips and hints on parenting your teenager then follow my Facebook page: Psychology Hacks for Thriving through Secondary School, or to read more relevant blogs and find out more about what I do, go to my website: https://www.helennearycoaching.com/ and contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 30 minute session
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