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News fit for children: Monitoring, helping children cope with devastation, tragedy in the news


August 25. 2013 9:12AM
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LIMA — Ten-year-old Codey Ewing's church took part in relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, so the Elida third-grader saw pictures and heard firsthand stories of the devastation.Visiting an aunt in Toledo, he saw a destroyed Lake High School after a tornado ripped through the area a year ago.Still, there is only so much his mother allows Codey to see or hear. Fara Ewing keeps a tight grip on television and Internet use at home.“There is a point when we say, ‘It is time for you to leave the room,' or, ‘Let's shut our eyes now,'” said Ewing, who also has a 4-year-old son. “He has to know what is going on and be aware that things can happen, but there is a point sometimes when things go overboard.”There has been much devastation, tragedy and potentially “scary” images in the news this year: The earthquake in Japan, tornadoes in the South and warnings of the same here, sailors killing Osama bin Laden and high-profile murder cases here, including the most recent involving a teenager killing her 4-year-old sister.Knowing the family involved, the Ewings kept news coverage of the death away from their sons. That is not always an easy task for parents in a time of 24-hour news, multiple televisions in homes, and increasingly computer-savvy children and teenagers. Add summer leaving children with a lot more time on their hands, and the challenge grows. Keeping the news at bayDarrell “Skip” and Julie Boedicker keep dialogue about alarming news events at a “childish level” and don't watch the news in front of their blended family of four young children, ages 8 and 10.“It is just not something that is necessary,” Skip Boedicker said. “If we hear about something major going on, we just avoid the TV until a time that we can view it in private. ... Our kids can process and understand some of it, but the majority of it is just not necessary.”The children know which television channels they can watch, Boedicker said, and they know the computer is mainly for educational purposes. Mom or Dad sits next to them if they are online. Ewing is also close by if her son is watching television or on the computer, and vows that he won't have Internet access on a computer in his bedroom any time soon, if ever.“You have to be aware of what is going on in your own house,” she said. “You can't just let them sit like zombies and watch. You have to be on top of it and sitting there with them watching it.”The Boedickers know the teenage years are fast approaching and talk now about how they will handle them. They know their children will want and need more freedom, and Mom and Dad talk of slowly “breaking them in” to world events as they mature. The couple also know that technology will continue to expand, making monitoring even more difficult. Restricting too much, Boedicker said, could be more damaging.“As the kids get older and they start earning the responsibility of being able to carry these devices and have access to different things, we can only hope that as parents we set guidelines in their lives young enough and all through that it is already preset on how to use the devices properly,” he said. Internet makes it trickyAllen County Prosecutor Juergen Waldick does community presentations to parents about the Internet. While his focus is largely on protecting from Internet predators, his rules of monitoring apply here.Parents should know their child's username and passwords for email, Facebook and other social networking pages, Waldick said. And don't be afraid to use it, seeing what is coming into their mailboxes and checking their browser history.“You can check your child's email or Facebook account from anywhere,” he said. “It does not necessarily have to be from home. During your lunch hour, get on and see what they have been doing.”If parents don't feel comfortable having the passwords, Waldick suggests they at least get on Facebook and make them a friend.Waldick advises keeping the home computer in a common place, saying a young teenager with a laptop computer in the bedroom can lead to problems. Parents of young children can find software to monitor Internet use and block certain items.A big problem, Waldick said, is many parents of older children and teenagers did not grow up in a computer age. They don't fully know how to navigate and don't understand the dangers.“Don't think of a computer as a keyboard and monitor. Think of it as a geographic place and apply all those rules to the Internet,” he said. “We don't need new parenting skills. We just need to adapt our parenting skills to the digital age.”Part of monitoring what children see on television and online, Ewing said, is giving them other things to do, especially during summer. Her boys are involved in everything from Scouts, day camps and vacation Bible school. They stay with their grandmother when Mom and Dad work. Grandma also keeps them active.“You do have the boredom factor in the summer,” Ewing said. “You have to get them involved in things. There are so many things. You have to know the options.”What parents need to knowThe amount of safe exposure to news events depends on the individual child and his or her developmental level, said Shawnee School Psychologist Shannon Weissling. Open communication is a must, she said. Children need to feel safe, but know that it is OK to ask questions.“If parents don't take time to talk to the child about the incident, someone else might,” she said. “For families that decide to not let children see the news, it is important for them to realize that when a child goes to school, they might hear that.” Parents need to monitor how the child is reacting to what they have seen or heard, Weissling said. Cues to look for with preschool children include regressing behavior: a toilet-trained child might start wetting the bed. An older child might withdraw from peers, a teenager become disruptive or experiment with drugs or alcohol.A child who has already gone through trauma — a fire or a parent serving oversees in the military — could have a tougher time dealing with something they see in the news, Weissling said.Younger children, Weissling said, can have trouble separating what is real and might exaggerate things. It is vital to be honest, while also letting children understand they are safe.“It is important not to lie to children because we could have an earthquake or tornado here,” she said. “It is about speaking the facts about what they see in the news, but trying not to over exaggerate.”Most important, Weissling said, is to remember that children take their cues from adults and will model the behavior they see. If a parent has trouble dealing with their own emotions over a news event, Weissling said they need to take care of themselves.“Children look to us as adults and how we react to things,” she said. “They are smarter than what we think they are and will pick up on things.”Can't protect them all the timeThere are times when even a parent who tries can't shield a child. Boedicker's youngest daughter heard of the earthquake in Japan and quickly feared for her military brother stationed there.“She got a very solemn look on her face, so we had to address that very quickly,” Boedicker said, adding that if she had wanted to see more to be assured her brother was OK, the couple would have allowed it, but been very discreet.The same daughter asked who Osama bin Laden was. They kept the explanation basic, saying he was a “man that just did not like the United States and hurt a lot of people around the world and the Army went and got him.” The discussion went no further and none of the children saw any news coverage.Both the Ewings and Boedickers have people in their lives serving in the military. Their children have largely grown up with terrorism and war. Again, they keep the explanation very basic. “Sometimes people don't get along and sometimes we have to protect our rights,” Boedicker relayed the conversation.Ewing recognizes that her son may interpret a news story much differently than she or other adults. It's why parents have to talk to their children and bring the event “down to their level.”“Even though they heard the same thing you did, in their mind it is different,” she said. “It could be that they think, ‘Are they going to come after me next, is that going to happen to my house.'”If news coverage starts to get “gory,” Ewing is quick to get rid of it. The same goes for movies and television. She recently had the same quick reaction in the car when radio news went too far in covering the U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner story.Teaching momentsBoth Boedicker and Ewing use some new events as teaching moments. Ewing's son asked questions about tornadoes as the family like many here spent a couple of evenings in basements last month. As the siren blared, she talked to him about being prepared and keeping safe.Boedicker did the same from his basement, also reminding his children that tornadoes were happening elsewhere and destroying people's homes.“We talk about what would happen if that happened to us, how are we going to react,” he said. “Are we going to be the type of family that panics and throws our hands in the air and not know what to do, or try to be organized and make sure we are taken care of so we can go and help other people.”The events can also lead to discussions about helping others. Area schools often hold penny drives and other activities for charity. Oftentimes the money goes to the American Red Cross and its efforts to assist victims of disasters around the world.Ewing's children saw adults in their family not buy Christmas gifts for each other last year, but instead put together cleaning materials to be sent to tornado victims. It posed an opportunity to talk to the children about giving, Ewing said.Elida Elementary School pupils collected supplies to send to tornado victims the last week of school this year. In enticing children to bring in items, they learned about the tornadoes. “It is a good way to get them started,” Ewing said. “If the kids don't learn the giving now, they won't ever get it.”You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.





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