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Confessions of a news junkie who hides the news from his kids


Child media junkie cartoon I’m increasingly aware of fumbling to turn off the TV or rapidly switching channels as my kids wander in and out of the room to spend quality time with their mother and myself.

It’s not that I’ve been viewing violent, risqué, or scary footage. But I’ve been consciously and studiously protecting my kids from the news.

This goes against the grain, as I am a news junkie who loves discussing the state of political economic play with my wife, and talking through some issues with our children.

I am supportive and hyper-conscious of open communication. But I’ve re-connected with my inner media fascist. For good reason. The time that kids now spend consuming media – at school, during leisure, doing homework – is ‘second most to anything else children do, besides sleep’.

Children are devoting at least four hours to accessing the universe on their iPads and other electronic gear, including mobile phones, TV and video games. By the time they graduate from high school ‘teenagers will have spent more time in front of the screen than in the classroom’.

At home we supervise what our kids interact with as much as is humanly possible. At school it’s via the in loco parentis role exercised by their teachers. It's becoming more common for our supervision to involve a decision to switch channels, or switch off devices, for the sake of our kids’ mental health.

The horrific patricide by Cy Walsh, son of Adelaide Crows coach Phil Walsh wounded his wife Meredith, and left their daughter Quinn devastated. It baffled my family. The kids joined us in expressing sorrow, but we didn’t dwell on the murder. Noting many factors, I couldn’t come close to explaining it.

Then there’s the latest in a seemingly continuous number of ‘colour by dots’ mass executions, as 25 Syrian regime soldiers were murdered by ISIS in the ancient stadium in Palmyra, Syria. This grisly, spectator sport turned propaganda opportunity was perpetrated by child soldiers, no less. Want to explain that gleeful slaughter to your 11-year-old and eight-year-old? No thanks.

Fielding questions about the latest shark attack, or car crash, or government culling of charitable funds; these are relatively simple conversations compared to talking about the latest rape or mugging or instance of cruelty.

And there’s the perennial verbal assaults that shamelessly abuse others. There is no simple answer to the ‘why’; no straightforward answer when our kids ask us how they can reason with people who are not rational – those who have no desire to be reasonable.

I chose not to tackle Mark Latham’s attack on Australian of the Year, anti-domestic violence advocate Rosie Batty. While we had earlier sat with our kids and discussed Ms Batty’s courage in the face of cruelty and irreparable loss, we have chosen not to expose them to Latham’s banal, nostalgic reference to a time of ‘dignity of working class life, when grieving was conducted in private’.

As Mia Freedman noted, Latham’s ‘absurd, reckless and fatuous argument’ harks back to an epoch when ‘rape in marriage was still legal and children were routinely sexually abused by clergy in churches who thought it was fine to cover up their abuse’.

Likewise, we chose not to canvass the bizarre misfiring of good intentions through a sex education message telling year seven girls in one of Melbourne’s outer-eastern private schools that females are chemically at risk of being ‘more needy than boys’ and that young women who pursued ‘active’ relationships would end up losing their stickability, like ‘overused sticky tape’.

Murder, sexual and verbal assault, abuse of power, strange, paternalistic takes of female sexuality… a few of the real life dramas played out on our TVs in just a few days; conversations we chose not to have. Our kids face enough challenges, traumas and growing pains.

We take responsibility for educating our children about relationships, sexuality, politics, parity and justice, discernment and prejudice, spirituality and rationality. We do so as we deem appropriate and timely. We are all too aware of our own perspectives, values and experiences.

Our responsibility to watch over children’s media consumption may be a blindingly obvious. But I for one am becoming more and more aware of the impact that media can have, as part of the wider ‘neighbourhood’ our children live in. It is not that I believe media is a magic bullet, ricocheting off our kids’ lives to cause grief and fear. Mass media and social media are merely streams that pour into the informational torrent.

But as a parent I have decided to be more proactive in staving off much of that tide of depressing and distressing news that washes over our kids as they grow; at least while they are building their own ‘filters’.

Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a communication and research consultant for the Salvation Army.

Media child image my Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, media, news, violence, children, education, censorship, parenting



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Existing comments

How can we make it a better world if kids aren't seeing what's wrong with it? We constantly underestimate their ability to cope. I'd rather they were prepared, hopeful and maybe a little bit wary so they aren't gullible or naive. Let them be kids, don't force the worlds ills on them but let them discover it themselves. They'll learn more about it through social circles wether parents shield them or not. At least if they discuss it you can have input. That said I don't believe social media is a good thing for them as it can be used as a weapon. My daughter chooses not to have Facebook for that reason, at least she made an educated choice rather than me shielding her. Just my thoughts anyway.

John | 09 July 2015  

I think the sex education class referred to above, actually occurred in a state co-ed high school (not a private girls' school) - whch makes the whole issue even more bizarre!

Chris Byrt | 10 July 2015  

Good choice Barry. Let children be children for as long as possible. Many have been, and are, a major part of my life. I'm happy with the outcome so far. Keep up your good parenting. It requires effort but worth it.

Patricia Taylor | 10 July 2015  

I always try as best I can to tell my kids the truth of things as appropriate to their ability to understand. I can't shield my son from news - he is an avid reader, sees TV and hears about it at school. We have informed conversations about what is happening on the news as he asks and tell him the truth - but always assure him he is safe and shouldn't dwell too much on the bad stuff. I recently attended a conference workshop about the increasing violence of children towards their parents. Interestingly, the presenters research showed among other things, one contributing factor towards diminishing respect for parents can be the overprotective nature we have today in trying to shield our kids from things. Not everyone will agree but it's food for thought. Each to their own I say - we all have the right to parent as we see best we see fit for our kids. I intend continuing honest dialogue with my boys and allowing them to learn about unpleasant things, while ensuring they don't dwell on it and feel safe in their own surroundings. But I acknowledge that's not necessarily right thing for every child.

Ngaire | 10 July 2015  

What is important is building a relationship with your children where it is natural for them to ask "why?" And for them to see their parents saying and doing the fair and just thing. By all means keep them children and only discuss things at the level that is age or personality appropriate, One of the best antidotes to the insidious effects of TV is the reading of good books . It's amazing what good talks together can be generated . Enjoy these lovely days of primary aged schoolchildren Barry. It's a very special and important time.

Celia | 10 July 2015  

You struck a chord with this reader Barry; I write precisely because of the decisions I had to make while on the similar type journey you too seem to be on. I too loved to discuss with my wife political/economic landscapes that media exposed, and to use the lessons that I could discern to provide feedback for my children. I hoped I was providing a grounding for them in searching for the truth in media and a model in being rationally objective and in maintaining a belief in the potential goods of humanity, while acknowledging our counterpointing darkness. Of course, my wife and kids were not always receptive, and I had to get over my own maleness and to be more open to finding what engaged them. Realising that sometimes my ability or wish to develop understanding of nuance in media reportage was not necessarily able to be shared and/or absorbed by loved ones, resulted in me pulling back from trying to be on top of 'the news', to being more discriminatory on 'what news' and from where. Because of the overwhelming volumes of media, that's the choice we all face. In choosing which, quality is priority. And by choosing quality one necessarily chooses to restrict where information comes from. Choosing information rather than hot gossip helps cut down on garbage. Gigo seems often to have been forgotten by consumers, in the interests of 'entertainment'. The search for a time and place for, as you say, "supportive and hyper-conscious of open communication" in the family continues to be a battle not just of time, but of complementary respect for interests. My wife told me about the tragic circumstances of the death Pat Walsh. I don't follow daily news, until it touches me in some way. This touched most of us and for disparate reasons. Football is not just a game, it is also life, and death, in degrees, to actors public and private. A friend asked if I knew Walsh. No, not this one. It was pointed out that there were intersections. No, not more palpable on those grounds. However, and this is what drew me into this conversation, when I looked at my eldest daughter a day later and asked her what she was hearing on social media, I was asking her to connect the dots of what she observes in her world and what she observes in a 'more distant world'. Asking her to recognise the tragedy in all it's dimensions, which are different for all of us because our rationale for hearing, seeing, sensing, even before any attempt at contextual understanding, is an exercise in hope. However, what has been shared to now in spirituality, compassion, love, the love of life, is a good foundation for sharing tragedy, and joy, so that our journeys have communication. So Barry, I've replied to your article headline, and am squarely behind the content of your article. Great article. I pray that all parents can get behind your pov.

MichCook | 12 July 2015  

By the time they are 13 or perhaps 14, most young people know more about the media (by which Imean social media) than their parents, and are active participants in it. Very few kids watch TV news or read newspapers in print form, or even on-line.

Penelope | 16 July 2015  

This goes against the grain, as I am a news junkie who loves discussing the state of political economic play with my wife, and talking through some issues with our children.

Jack | 25 November 2015  

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