This just in: For kids, a little news goes a long way

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis - despite being 8 years old when it occurred. It scared me.

What kind of news junkie was I? I actually recall watching some of the debate that took place in front of the U.N. Security Council. I doubt I understood a word of it, but still.

This must have foreshadowed the fact that I would grow up to work in the news media. But was it good for me to be worrying about arms deployment in the third grade? Probably not. There was nothing I could do about it, my influence on foreign policy being somewhat limited at the time. It might have been better for my parents to say, "Okay, honey, that's enough geopolitical tension for one day. Go do your homework."

By the time people reach adulthood, they have mostly figured out that human affairs are often a mess.

They can withstand a full dose of news. Kids, while they certainly learn from paying attention to current events, are better off with a children's dose.

Some events a parent can't or shouldn't hide: John F. Kennedy's assassination (which I also remember vividly) and the 9/11 attacks, for example. Kids are going to have questions. But I don't think it's necessarily beneficial to have kids wallowing in every misfortune that comes along.

Here are my guidelines for kids and the news:

  • Don't trouble an 8-year-old with things that might happen. The Iranian nuclear reactor is certainly a cause for concern, but it poses no immediate threat to an American schoolchild.
  • If you're going to trouble an 8-year-old with things that might happen, make them things that the 8-year-old can do something about. I think here of global warming. I wouldn't paint it in apocalyptic terms, but presenting it as a problem that everyone on Earth can help solve seems reasonable. At worst, you'll teach the kid to turn off lights upon leaving a room.
  • A lot of news, particularly on cable, consists of isolated, horrible occurrences far, far away. Be sure to make that point when kids hear about them. The world isn't as scary as the news sometimes implies.
  • Beware of the weather, a favorite and often overdone news topic. My daughter used to get worried every time a flood warning crawled across the bottom of the screen. I'd have to reassure her that it was three counties away. I knew she was maturing when she stopped worrying about bad weather and started rooting for it so that school would be canceled.
  • You might as well put economic news to good use. They don't call economics the dismal science for nothing: economic news, even when it's good, always contains at least a kernel of gloom. So there is the perfect justification for saying no to kids when they make extravagant demands. "Sorry, honey, but you heard what they said about the Dow. Don't blame me. Blame Ben Bernanke.

Joe Blundo's column, So to Speak, appears in the Life section of The Columbus Dispatch. It's a mix of humor, human interest and information. A collection of his columns has been published in the book Dancing Dads, Defective Peeps and Buckeye Misadventures. He lives in Worthington with his wife and two children.