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
  2. Time for Kids
  3. Pitara
  4. DOGO news
  5. National Geographic Kids
  6. Science News for Students
  7. CNN Student News (this one is for middle and high schoolers)
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