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How to Talk to Kids About a Violent World: Resources for Counselors, Teachers, and Parents [[data]] [[Other]]

20 Feb 2023 9:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Andrea Fleming, High School Counselor, United Nations International School Hanoi

Recently my 10-year-old daughter asked if she could start listening to the news with me in the mornings as I get ready for school. She told me in class they were studying migration and did I know about the kid who hid in the wheel well of the airplane to get to America and what about the ones from Syria who died when the boat sank? I silently wondered how her teacher was explaining to her and her classmate the inequities in our world today, the violence and crime and war, all whilst racking my brain as to what I should say in that moment. It made me realize that I need to be better prepared to address this issue, not only as a parent, but as a school counselor. 

Parenting expert, Caroline Knorr, writes: “We know that kids report feeling afraid, angry, or depressed about the news. But in recent years -- prompted by increased terrorist attacks around the world -- researchers are exploring the effects of remote exposure to real violent events. Remote exposure is when kids understand that something traumatic has occurred but haven't experienced it directly. Unsurprisingly, its lingering effects include feelings of grief, trauma, fear, and other mental health concerns. Kids can be deeply affected by images of war-torn countries, bloodied refugee children, and mass graves and need additional help processing them.” She gives great tips on how to explain violence to kids of all ages. For pre-adolescents and pre-teens, besides waiting to see what they know and being honest and direct, she recommends discussing sensationalism in news and media and explaining context and offering perspective, and what gives things meaning and clarity in order to make sense of negative and unpleasant things. For teens she favors assuming they know -- but not assuming their knowledge is complete. She advises to accept their sources, but expand their horizons. And of course to give them hope and to motivate them to contribute to the greater good. 1

Dr. Hina Talib, an adolescent medicine specialist and pediatrician, says that we need to look out for less obvious signs that kids are nervous about war or violence in the world as some will ask questions but others will worry silently. And Emily W. King, a child psychologist, recommends to take the cues from the child as some will ask out of curiosity not fear. If you are worried that teens are doom-scrolling on a device, encourage them to make smart media choices, Dr. Talib suggested. “Ask them which news sources they are following and why, and what coverage has helped them understand more about the conflict versus made their heart race more.” Point students in the direction of more appropriate news sources such as News-O-Matic and Newsela, as well as sources appropriate for teens, such as NPR and HuffPost Teen. 2

Amy Morin, an LCSW, has great advice about making sure we adults avoid harmful stereotypes when talking to our students about violence, encourage parents towatch media coverage alongside older kids and teens, and to point out the good people who are helping. 3

Below are several resources you can use to educate yourself, your teachers, and your parent community regarding how to talk to your students about war, crime, and a violent world. 

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