We all want the COVID-19 pandemic to end—watching the number of cases rise and fall in city after city, state after state, can feel like a worthwhile way to stay informed. But is staying tuned actually harming your family’s ability to cope with the crisis? Research says yes.
Heavy news exposure can have negative effects on both our, and our kids,’ well-being. While media can be educational and entertaining for kids, it can also be damaging. Study after study shows how watching too much news can be bad for your health. One 2011 study in the British Journal of Psychology showcases that it only takes 14 minutes of watching bad news to feel its effect on you. In other studies on the mental health effects of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks in children, researchers found that proximity to the attacks was not the only factor in predicting post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) in kids — exposure to news coverage of the attacks also increased their risk of developing PTSD. Research shows that watching the news—rather than just in reading or listening to it—results in a stronger emotional response and greater memory. It’s no wonder, then, why TV news has a particularly negative effect on viewers.
For parents and kids alike, anxiety-inducing content—like non-stop updates on the coronavirus—can lead to higher stress and anxiety levels. So, we’ve got a few ideas on how you can step away from the news to protect your family’s sanity.
Make the news count
When you do watch the news, whether solo or with others in your family, keep it brief, do it early, and talk it out.
- Keep it brief: Set a time limit for daily news watching. It’s important to stay up-to-date on the world around you, but don’t obsess over every detail. Understand how you want to get your news—daily podcast, morning broadcast news, local newspaper, a mobile app—and then stick with that routine. Routines promote consistency and calm.
- Do it early: Watching the news late at night can ruin a good night’s sleep. Instead, get your daily news dose in the morning, so that your brain can process the new information throughout the day. If your kids are tuning in, too, it also gives them all day to process the news and ask questions.
- Talk it out: Discussing the news is an important part of processing. If your kids are consuming news with you, consider asking them about the news directly after each daily dose. Stay in tune with their worries and curiosity about the news.
- Address their concerns: If your kid starts asking questions like, “Am I going to get the virus?” or “Do we have to stay inside forever?” take that as a cue to talk out their anxieties. There are a number of free picture books available online to help with discussing the coronavirus with younger kids.
- Follow their curiosity: On the flip side, you may find that the news incites interest in a specific topic, such as vaccines, public health, or public service. Follow that curiosity—you may find an opportunity for a real-world learning moment through projects at home! One project idea is to help your kids analyze the news. We’re watching a lot of news right now. Is it accurate? Biased? Helpful or not? Younger kids can analyze a news story to understand the components of a story. Older students can use their screen time to watch a few different network broadcasts and compare how they report information and analyze accuracy.
Not all screen time is bad
Watching hours of stressful news and scrolling through depressing social media posts can be harmful, but not all screen time is bad. There are also positive ways to entertain yourself and your family with screens. Instead of binge-watching the latest COVID-19 news for the entire afternoon and scrolling through social media to get pandemic updates from friends and family, consider putting on an uplifting movie or TV show.
Since we’re also in the age of video conferencing, consider ways to socially connect with friends and family with video calls. Host a digital show-and-tell, cooking show, or talent show with kids and parents in the neighborhood.
Get beyond the screen
Even better, consider switching off the tube and getting active! Encourage your kid to write their living history, get serious about play, explore a new interest, laugh it up, and celebrate the small wins.
We’re in this together—if we replace those extra minutes (or hours!) we might have been spending in front of anxiety-inducing news, we may find that we can pass the time a little faster.