Children and Violence in the News

Can the nightly news reports about war, murder, rape, and urban gang activity have a negative effect on kids? I try not to let my children watch too much of this, but sometimes it's unavoidable. Am I right to be concerned?

Many of the images, sounds, and descriptions of war and crime broadcast on television are extremely intense and graphic in nature. While adults have the capacity to comprehend and emotionally process this kind of disturbing material, children don’t possess that ability. For this reason, we believe it’s important to limit your consumption of violent and war-related news coverage when children are around. If you have any doubts on this score whatsoever, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. Turn the TV off and get the family involved in some other activity.

Older children – ages ten and above – generally have a much greater ability to understand and tolerate what they see on television than do their younger siblings. They can grasp concepts like heroism, patriotism, loyalty, and duty. They have some idea of what it means to die, and they may even be wrestling with the moral implications of killing and warfare.

Younger children, on the other hand, require protection from war and crime coverage on TV. At the most basic level, they need to know that they are safe. Because they have a limited understanding of geographical distances and the size of the earth, it may help to ease their minds if you show them on a globe just how far away they really are from some of the worst war-torn areas in the world. If they’ve been upset by viewing war-related footage, you can counter their fears by keeping as normal a routine as possible in their daily lives. Try taking some extra time before bed just to talk or read together.

No matter what the age of your child, there are some basic things you can do to help them cope with the more disturbing aspects of the world in which we live. One of the most important ways to empower them is to listen to them. Let them talk about their thoughts and emotions and take them seriously when they do. You can also encourage them to draw pictures of war, terrorism, or anything else they may be worried about. Older children may want to keep a journal and write about their feelings. Whatever the method, gently assist your child to express his or her anxieties. Don’t try to force your kids to open up.

You can also deal with emotions of fear, worry, or sadness by doing something positive in response. For example, if your children are anxious about the war, help them write a letter to a serviceman or servicewoman stationed overseas. Brainstorm with them about ways of making life easier for a military family here at home. Talk about the power of prayer and encourage them to spend time praying with you for the needs of our troops and their family members.

If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. We look forward to being of service to you in any way we can.


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