Dealing With Tragic News

By Christina Elston


Common Sense Media has excellent resources for parents seeking to help their children navigate modern media. PHOTO COURTESY COMMON SENSE MEDIA

Whether it’s happening in Nice, Dallas, Louisiana, Orlando, Brussels or Paris, it can sometimes feel like tragedy is also taking place right in the palm of your hand – or your child’s – via social media and smartphones.

“It’s just a constant bombardment of input. I was shocked to hear that kids are getting news information from Instagram,” says Caroline Knorr, parenting editor of Common Sense Media, a California-based nonprofit dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of technology.

Even if you don’t allow your child to use social media, you can’t be sure he or she won’t see things on a friend’s account. That means policing your child’s sources of information shouldn’t be your top priority. “The most important thing is to help kids learn how to view media critically,” Knorr says. Teach your older child:

  • which news sources (i.e. public radio, newspapers) are more reliable,
  • what sensationalism is, and
  • that there are other perspectives out there besides the one that shows up in their social media feed.

When you hear about tragic news, start by asking what your child has seen or heard about it before diving in with your perspective. Knorr hadn’t wanted to tell her teenage son about the Orlando shootings in June, but he heard about them before she did.

Whatever your child’s age, react calmly. “They need to be reassured that they are safe and stable,” says Knorr. Point out that even though we are flooded with information about these events, they are isolated incidents. Minimize your younger child’s exposure to information about these events if you can.

Teens and tweens, meanwhile, might benefit from the chance to express feelings with their peers on social media. They can see other kids’ reactions, and respond. “That’s super powerful for kids,” Knorr says.

You can also offer your child a chance to get involved. “It’s super important for kids, especially now, to feel like they can do something,” says Knorr. That might mean showing support for a related charity or participating in a peaceful demonstration.

Responding positively will help your child feel more empowered and less afraid. Learn more about kids and media at

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