On November 24, 2014, the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri announced "no indictment" in the case against the officer who shot and killed Mike Brown (see full coverage here). According to reports following the decision, protestors came together across the county and some riots broke out in Ferguson.
As a result of the increased tension regarding race relations and media coverage of the violence, some may wonder how much media coverage they should expose their children to. Parents in Missouri and across the country must take into account how repeated expose to media violence may impact children's psychological and emotional functioning. Not only can repeated expose cause distress, but it could affect the child's interactions with their peers.
Below are some suggestions from the American Psychological Association (APA) on how to deal with media coverage of violence.
· Take "news breaks". Your children may want to keep informed by gathering information about the event from the internet, television, or newspapers. It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news because constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears. Also, scheduling some breaks for yourself is important; allow yourself time to engage in activities you enjoy.
· Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your children. Be a model for your children on how to manage traumatic events. Keep regular schedules for activities such as family meals and exercise to help restore a sense of security and normalcy.
· Keep home a safe place. Children, regardless of age, often find home to be a safe haven when the world around them becomes overwhelming. During times of crisis, it is important to remember that your children may come home seeking the safe feeling they have being there. Help make it a place where your children find the solitude or comfort they need. Plan a night where everyone participates in a favorite family activity.
· Talk with your child. Talking to your children about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them. What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know you are there listening to them.
o Start the conversation; let them know you are interested in them and how they are coping with the information they are getting.
o Listen to their thoughts and point of view; don't interrupt--allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.
o Express your own opinions and ideas without putting down theirs; acknowledge that it is okay to disagree.
o Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support. Give them a hug.
· Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety. After a traumatic event, it is typical for children (and adults) to experience a wide range of emotions, including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety. Your children's behaviors may change because of their response to the event. They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on school work, or changes in appetite. This is normal for everyone and should begin to disappear in a few months. Encourage your children to put their feelings into words by talking about them or journaling. Some children may find it helpful to express their feelings through art.
If you or your child experience significant stress consider talking to a professional for additional ways to cope. You can find a provider in your community by searching the website of the psychological association in your state. You may also locate a psychologist in your area through the APA website.
Copyright Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D. 2014
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American Psychological Association (2011). Helping your child manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting. Obtained from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/aftermath.aspx
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Dr. Turner is a licensed psychologist with expertise in behavioral pediatrics, child mental health, disruptive behavior disorders, and minority mental health. He is also certified as a National Register Health Service Psychologist.