The war in Ukraine has resulted in a cascade of upsetting digital content. How should parents talk about the conflict with their children and shield them from the worst images?
Every parent wants to protect their child from the darker sides of the world in which we live. Yet as war in the Ukraine rages on, many of us are discovering fast that this is no longer possible.
With a smartphone in their hand, young people are now exposed to media in myriad forms – homemade or expert, graphic or tragic, fake or real, searched for or stumbled upon. Neither can younger kids be shielded from the news. Children of all ages absorb overheard snippets of conversation, playground gossip and news broadcasts.
In fact, many experts agree that hiding all news of the war from your child can backfire, leading them to worry more about their unanswered questions. Calm, truthful and authoritative news sources and conversations are the key to protecting children’s mental health in turbulent times.
So how can you equip your child with age-appropriate information?
Teens and tweens
TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube are currently alive with content from and about Ukraine. Your child might have questions to ask about the stories they are seeing. They may also feel overwhelmed, anxious and even pressured to keep up with the news, making it hard for them to put down their device and switch off.
If you are worried that your child is being overwhelmed, don’t panic. Setting YouTube to Restricted Mode will sift out the most inappropriate content while YouTube Kids limits their access still further to family-friendly videos.
It may also be a good idea to set boundaries around screen-time. Hold a family conference and agree to times at which everyone will step away from their devices. Leaving smartphones downstairs when everyone goes to bed eliminates the temptation to scroll through news and helps everyone get the sleep needed to process new information. Parental controls such as the Google Family Link app also allow you to set daily limits and ‘bedtime’ on your child’s device, ensuring that they take breaks.
A study by UNICEF found that three quarters of children are not confident in their ability to assess the accuracy of the information they access online. Those aged nine to 11 and 12-14 felt least confident of all. And with Russia’s online disinformation campaigns currently making headlines, now is a good time to start a conversation about ‘fake news’ with your children, and discuss the posts they are seeing on social media.
What is the difference between news and propaganda? Can you tell if an image has been doctored? If a post is popular, does that necessarily mean that it is true? Does one person’s view always give you the whole picture?