When a tragedy strikes, like the recent one in Aurora, Colorado, adults and children alike are faced with a lot of questions. Media coverage of the traumatic events helps communities to come together in showing support for people who lost dear ones in tragedies.
However, another question arises for the mental health professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors. What is the impact of watching traumatic images on children and adolescents who are not necessarily the direct victims of the tragedies? Is this indirect exposure to the trauma having an impact on the psychological development of children and adolescent watching the news at home, in a remote location from the tragedy?
In general, the research shows a positive correlation between exposure to media coverage of tragedies and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children. Children who witness violence, directly or indirectly, may experience a disruption of the normal developmental trajectory of childhood, depending on the different age groups. Repeated television coverage of the disaster may perpetuate panic, fear, despair and a potential re-experience of trauma with each viewing.
What do experts recommend in order to minimize the negative effects of media coverage?
- Monitor the amount the child watches new shows
- Watch the news with the kids
- Allow appropriate amount of time to discuss feelings or questions elicited by the show
- Ask the child what he/she has heard and what questions does he/she may have
- Provide reassurance regarding his or her own safety, emphasizing that the adults in his/her life are going to keep him/her safe
- Look for signs that the news may have triggered fears or anxieties such as sleeplessness, fears, bedwetting, crying, or talking about being afraid.
- If there are serious concern, the parent should contact a child and adolescent psychiatrist for a consultation and assistance.
If you like this article on How Much Media Coverage of the Tragedies is Too Much, or have questions, schedule your first session by calling us at 713-426-3100.