As the COVID-19 pandemic and protests against police violence sweep the nation, news networks and social media are delivering constant, often unfiltered coverage — leaving parents with tough decisions on what to allow their children to watch, and how to explain to them what they’re seeing.
An Instagram post from ESPN quoted New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan: “I talked to a coach who also has young children, and he said, ‘We don’t even throw on CNN; we’re just keeping it all Disney so the kids don’t have to watch.’ I don’t have that luxury.”
For many black parents, looking away doesn’t feel like an option.
Shi’Brianna Hillard, a mother of one, gives her perspective on parenting during the crisis.
“I would be honest with my child. I would rather them know what’s happening than not knowing at all,” Hillard said.
“Some children have tablets and can search videos on their own on YouTube, you never know what they can find and how they will take that information in,” she said.
Hillard’s son is only four months old, however. She said she prefers to watch the news on her cellphone, so he can watch “Garfield” on the television.
Dr. Catherine Atria, University of Florida professor of educational practice, said there needs to be conversations with children, but parents need to be deliberate about what the content of the conversation is.
“Whether it be the protests or information related to COVID-19, it’s all developmental and what’s developmentally appropriate for the child,” Atria said.
“They’re not going to understand systemic racism, but they will understand appreciating, recognizing and celebrating the differences that we all have and how that makes us a better and rich society,” Atria said.
Dr. Joy Gabrielli, University of Florida Department of Clinical and Health Psychology assistant professor, said middle childhood is a nuanced period for children as they develop interpretation skills and their own identities, belief systems and behavioral patterns. News coverage can impact this development positively or negatively.
“Many households in today’s society will leave the television on in the background with little consideration of what news or other media content is playing. This may be problematic for youth if their exposure to this televised media is not adequately explained by caregivers in their lives,” she said.
Gabrielli said parents serve as gatekeepers for youth and should be thinking about how and when they want to expose their children to news media, and what maturity level the content requires.
“News reports covering rioting across cities, for example, may increase child anxiety about safety and fears related to interactions with others, if that information is not explained by parents,” she said.
But Atria believes it’s not the best course of action to completely shield a child from what’s happening, because many children don’t have the privilege of being shielded — it’s their everyday life.