Guidelines for Exposing Children to News Media by Age

Both local and national news tend to be dark and graphic these days. There is often talk about crime, war and poverty.

6 years old and younger – No exposure to news media

There are several reasons for this limitation

  • They understand more than we think they do, and the language of news is often stressful – From 18 months through three years old, children tend to be understanding one new word for every hour they are awake. Their vocabulary growth is amazing. The average two year old has 50 to 500 words in their working vocabulary which turns to 11,000 words by five years old. Their vocabulary tends to be smaller than what they actually can make sense of. This means, likely earlier than you thought, you should stop speaking over them and assuming they aren’t listening. It also means, if the news is on, they are likely picking up at least bits and pieces, and working to make sense of the language they hear. Talk that includes beheadings, roadside bombings or gang violence is aggressive and can be scary for a child. This goes for news radio in the car as well.
  • They have a limited understanding of time – Young children don’t understand replays. As an adult, I understand that when an explosion is being shown again and again on the news, it only happened once. When young children see a replay, to them it is happening again and again.
  • They have a limited understanding of space – You can explain all day that the war they are seeing on tv is happening half way around the world. To a young child, it is happening in their living room, and for all they know it might be just outside.
  • They are often still confused by fantasy vs. reality – I would never do this, but it would be very hard to explain to a three-year-old that Sesame Street is not a real place. They see it many days, they see people living there, occasionally they see it has changing weather and new muppets moving in and out. All of that makes it real.
  • Their imaginations tend to be far greater than their logic and reasoning – Translate, they scare easily. And, when they hear bits and pieces they tend to fill it in inaccurate ways.

7 through 12 years old – Guided exposure

  • As children are getting older, parents may wish to share news with their children. This may be a practical approach, especially since national news is often shared between students at school or addressed in some way by their teachers. Guided exposure means parents should watch news with their children, know the content of what children view online and offer open discussions following.
  • Be prepared for their questions – Parents should answer all children’s questions honest and small. This means it is fine to provide an honest answer that narrowly addresses the topic. As children want more information, they will likely ask more questions, and parents can let the questions be their guide.
  • There are lots of online sources for child-friendly news stories:
  1. Scholastic News Online http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/scholasticnews/index.html
  2. Time for Kids http://www.timeforkids.com/news-archive/world
  3. Pitara http://pitara.com/news/news_world.asp
  4. DOGO news http://www.dogonews.com/
  5. National Geographic Kids http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/stories/
  6. Science News for Students https://student.societyforscience.org/sciencenews-students?s=end%2520of%2520world
  7. CNN Student News http://www.cnn.com/studentnews/ (this one is for middle and high schoolers)

Exactly! Downside of E-Readers for Young Children

So, I’ve been asked many times in the last year for my thoughts about young children playing on iPads or reading on Kindles. My answers always lean towards it being better to play with toys or each other and read books rather than screens. Even when it’s just to occupy them because you need a minute, I would much rather parents hand their three-year-old a crayon and piece of paper than a phone with an open app. When it comes to early reading, my sense has been there is value in experiencing the book, in turning the pages, taking in the pictures and talking about the story. Thankfully, my favorite technology writer Lisa Guernsey has pulled together a fuller answer in her Time Ideas article titled Why EReading With Your Kid Can Impede Learning http://ideas.time.com/2011/12/20/why-ereading-with-your-kid-can-impede-learning/?xid=gonewsedit. If your pre- or early reader is already on a screen, check this out for tips on how to use it better and consider setting and enforcing time limits.

Lisa Guernsey is the director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative and author of Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age Five. Great book!

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