Since 1979, the New York Life Foundation has focused its support on times of transition for young people–following the loss of a loved one and during the shift from middle to high school. In addition to funding programs in these areas, the Foundation has worked to convene experts to share their perspectives. The coronavirus has presented an opportunity to develop resiliency in children and young adults, and this article is part of a new ongoing series from the New York Life Foundation called ‘Ask the Expert.’
Whenever a community or national tragedy unfolds in the public spotlight, Americans brace themselves for the overwhelming cascade of words and images that will dominate the airwaves until the next crisis takes hold. While many networks and cable outlets may take appropriate steps to avoid showing unsettling and/or, graphic words and images, it can be challenging to avoid the ongoing reporting, social media commentary, and conversation among friends and family that follows. The coronavirus is no different, so how can we remain vigilant and monitor the media “diet” our families will consume in the weeks to come?
Limit Your intake
Researchers1 have found that contact with frightening events through the media can negatively impact children’s emotional functioning and perception of the world. For those who have recently experienced a loss, family illness, or another crisis, viewing and reading about stories and programs related to the coronavirus may bring back feelings from these earlier events. Given these findings, it is important for adults to limit media consumption while their children are in the house. Children under seven years of age should not watch any programming or news reports. Older children and teens should avoid watching disturbing news or programming after 6:00 p.m. Such programming can overstimulate children and impede restful sleep.
Important considerations for social media
While families attempt to monitor television programming in their homes, social media presents new challenges. Researchers2 have explored the impact of social media on children and teens and found that social media can influence one’s well-being, and possibly have an impact on social circles offline. We also know that young people use social media to support each other during times of loss3. In fact, they may need these digital connections more than ever. Yet, it is still important to monitor when and what young people are reading and watching. Here are several points to consider when your child or teen uses social media:
Start a conversation
Viewing any programming related to a community or global crisis should be preceded by family discussion of what happened, and adults should monitor to the extent possible what children see and hear on their phones and computers. Here’s how to start a conversation about the coronavirus:
Watch with the family
It is strongly recommended that school-age children/teens of any age should NOT watch any crisis/disaster-related programming alone, but instead should watch with caring adults, family members, and good friends. Here are some tips for watching coronavirus programming with children:
Share your thoughts
After you and your family consume information about the coronavirus, talk about it and how you and your children are reacting–physically, as well as any emotions and thoughts you are feeling/having. Plan time to talk in a quiet, comfortable, and familiar place.
Commit to self-care
Let children and teens know that there are ways to feel better as we cope with uncomfortable feelings.
Take the time to check in with yourself and your family on a regular basis.
As the world grapples with the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and adjusts to a new day-to-day routine, it is critical to balance our news consumption with our commitment to support loved ones during this challenging time. Now more than ever we must keep abreast of important information that is vital to the health of our families. We must also be vigilant and observe how our children respond to the words and images in the media. We can interpret what they see and hear and reassure them. We can also build on crucial information that will not only keep them healthy but make them feel safe and secure.
Donna A. Gaffney, DNSc, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN is a consultant to the New York Life Foundation and provides expert advice and guidance on appropriate terminology and understanding and communicating with grieving families. She is a psychotherapist, author, and educator and has long addressed a wide range of life-altering experiences in the lives of children and families related to loss, trauma, and stress. She has counseled young people and schools in the aftermath of individual and national tragedies—9/11, Sandy Hook, and Hurricane Katrina. In addition to academic papers, Donna is the author of The Seasons of Grief, Helping Children Grow Through Loss. She taught at Columbia University and holds master’s degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University; Rutgers University, and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. Her post-doctoral work includes the Prudential Fellowship for Children and the News at Columbia Journalism School. Donna also consults for the Resilient Parenting for Bereaved Families Program at Arizona State University.
1 Comer, J. S., Furr, J. M., Beidas, R. S., Babyar, H. M., & Kendall, P. C. (2008). Media use and children's perceptions of societal threat and personal vulnerability. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 37(3), 622-630.
2 Bruggeman Helena, Alain Van Hiel, Guido Van Hal, & Stefan Van Dongen. 2019. “Does the use of digital media affect psychological well-being? An empirical test among children aged 9 to 12.” Computers in Human Behavior 101 (December): 104-113.
3 Wandel, T. L. (2019). Losing a Friend: Social Media's Impact on Child and Adolescent Grief. In Handbook of Research on Children's Consumption of Digital Media (pp. 24-40). IGI Global.
Go back to our newsroom to read more stories.