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When you or your children are upset by news reports

Media coverage of a violent crime, natural disaster, war, act of terrorism, or other disturbing event provides us with vital information, keeping us informed about what is happening and things we may need to do. But too much exposure to media coverage of frightening events can add to our distress and make us and our children feel anxious. Reports on burglaries or violent crimes in our community may be as disturbing as accounts of far-off disasters, because the local news stories involve events that may affect us more personally.

Below is information on ways to keep media coverage from adding to feelings of stress for you and your family.

Stress reactions to media coverage

Today, with live media broadcasts from around the world and instant news online, reports of traumatic events come streaming into our living rooms and onto our computer screens as never before. The growing use of mobile devices has made media coverage even harder to avoid.

We witness frightening events in colour, and it can feel as if we are really there. Graphic and disturbing images and non-stop coverage of traumatic events can cause us to feel traumatized even if we were not directly impacted by the trauma or tragedy. And for some individuals, the explicit media coverage of high-profile acts of violence may be particularly distressing, causing prolonged feelings of sadness, fear and anxiety, or other stress-related symptoms such as problems sleeping and mood swings.

Taking a break from media coverage 

If you are experiencing stress reactions to media coverage or if the news is making you feel anxious, do the following:

Take a break from listening to or watching media coverage of stressful events. Avoid reading news stories about the events or watching news or documentaries on TV or your device. Avoid following the coverage.

Find ways to fill the gap. Following the news can be a habit, so find other ways to spend the time. For instance, go for a walk, spend more time planning and enjoying meals with your family, listen to your favourite music, or read a book.

Find positive and uplifting news. Make sure you keep a balanced and objective worldview by reading reports on positive stories. There are certain designated websites and social media accounts which focus on this, for example Happy News and Positive News.

Take a break from talking about stressful events in the media with friends and relatives.

Talk to your doctor if your symptoms persist. A mental health professional can also provide help and support.

Resurfacing feelings of grief and anxiety

Some people may be especially affected by media coverage, including those who have previously experienced a loss or been a victim of a violent crime, natural disaster, war, catastrophe, or personal crisis. Traumatic events may trigger memories of past losses or events, even if they happened many years ago. And they may bring back images of previous traumas, nightmares and feelings of grief, fear, and sadness. Below are suggestions if you or someone you love is experiencing feelings of grief or anxiety that may be triggered by extensive media coverage of a traumatic event.

Talk to someone you trust about the recent events and about past losses or experiences that may be affecting you now.

If your work is affected, talk about your fears and concerns with a professional. Your assistance program can provide help and support.

Try to keep to a regular pattern of eating and sleeping. This gives you the strength to cope with stress.

Get as much exercise as possible. Many people find that exercise makes it easier to cope with painful emotions.

Focus on normal routines and activities. Normal routines establish a sense of calm and predictability. As much as possible, stick to your normal routine and take time to do activities you enjoy.

Make time to practise relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, or yoga.

Seek support from your community. During difficult periods many people find comfort and solace through meeting with groups in their communities.

Media coverage and children

Children who repeatedly see images of graphic violence on TV or in the news may have continued fears about their own safety and that of their family. They may think violence and crime are widespread and perceive the world to be more dangerous than it actually is. Children who have lost a pet, experienced a separation or divorce, or lost a friend or relative may be deeply affected. You can protect and support your child by doing the following:

Limit exposure to news coverage of disturbing events. Closely monitor what your child is seeing on TV and online.

Set up parental controls on the devices which your child uses. Restrict explicit content in news, music, and podcasts, set age-ratings for TV and films, and only allow age-appropriate apps.

Explain the media events in developmentally appropriate ways. Talk to your children in ways they can readily understand. Keep your explanations of events brief and factual, and let your child take the lead in voicing any concerns or questions. Very young children in particular should be shielded from watching media coverage of violent events.

Be present if your child does watch TV coverage of disturbing events. That way, you can answer your child's questions and talk about concerns. You don't have to have all the answers, but your reassurance is most important. You could say something like, "Bad things do happen, but most people are good and care about the same things we do in our family." It is important to be present even if your child is a teenager. If you don’t receive a response to your questions, let your child know you are always available to talk about any concerns or worries.

Take extra steps if the coverage involves a crime or other frightening event in your community. Find out what your child knows or has heard from friends so you can correct any mistaken ideas.

Monitor the play of young children. Children will often express in play what they can't say in words. Use play and make-believe as opportunities to engage with your child, provide reassurance, and correct any misinformation or mistaken beliefs.

Keep to family routines. Children do best when routines are regular, consistent, and predictable. Routines help children feel secure and let them know your family is OK and operating as normal. Plan a family outing or activity your child enjoys.

Try, as much as possible, to spend extra time with your child during difficult times. Talking, playing, doing arts and crafts, and even cooking together can be a great way to connect with your child.

Assure your children that they are safe and that it is your job to keep them safe. Remind them that there are people in the community and at school who also help to keep them safe, such as law enforcement, firefighters, and security guards. You could say, "Even if you don't see them, there are always people working behind the scenes to protect children and adults in the community."

Model acceptance and avoid stereotypes. Be calm, soothing, and supportive. Talk to your child about tolerance and how actions of individuals do not mean an entire country or group of people are bad or dangerous.

Emphasize your family value of caring for each other. Point out situations in daily life when people help and show kindness to others. The Good News Network has a special section aimed at children.