Explaining the News to Our Kids

Dramatic, disturbing news events can leave parents speechless. These age-based tips on how to talk to kids about the news -- and listen, too -- can help. By Caroline Knorr

If it bleeds, it leads. The old newsroom adage about milking stories for sensationalism seems truer than ever today. And with technology doing the heavy lifting -- sending updates, tweets, posts, and breaking news alerts directly to our kids' phones -- we parents are often playing catch-up. Whether it's wall-to-wall coverage of the latest natural disaster, a horrific mass shooting, a suicide broadcast on social media, or a violent political rally, it's nearly impossible to keep the news at bay until you're able to figure out what to say. The bottom line is that elementary school-aged kids and some middle schoolers have trouble fully understanding news events. And though older teens are better able to understand current events, even they face challenges when it comes to sifting fact from opinion -- or misinformation.

No matter how old your kids are, threatening or upsetting news can affect them emotionally. Many can feel worried, frightened, angry, or even guilty. And these anxious feelings can last long after the news event is over. So what can you do as a parent to help your kids deal with all this information?

Addressing News and Current Events: Tips for all kids

Consider your own reactions. Your kids will look to the way you handle the news to determine their own approach. If you stay calm and rational, they will, too.

Take action. Depending on the issue and kids' ages, families can find ways to help those affected by the news. Kids can write postcards to politicians expressing their opinions; families can attend meetings or protests; kids can help assemble care packages or donate a portion of their allowance to a rescue/humanitarian effort. Check out websites that help kids do good.

Tips for kids under 7

Keep the news away. Turn off the TV and radio news at the top of the hour and half hour. Read the newspaper out of range of young eyes that can be frightened by the pictures (kids may respond strongly to pictures of other kids in jeopardy). Preschool kids don't need to see or hear about something that will only scare them silly, especially because they can easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears.  

Stress that your family is safe. At this age, kids are most concerned with your safety and separation from you. Try not to minimize or discount their concerns and fears, but reassure them by explaining all the protective measures that exist to keep them safe. If the news event happened far away, you can use the distance to reassure kids. For kids who live in areas where crime and violence is a very real threat, any news account of violence may trigger extra fear. If that happens, share a few age-appropriate tips for staying and feeling safe (being with an adult, keeping away from any police activity).

Be together. Though it's important to listen and not belittle their fears, distraction and physical comfort can go a long way. Snuggling up and watching something cheery or doing something fun together may be more effective than logical explanations about probabilities.

Tips for kids 8–12

Carefully consider your child's maturity and temperament. Many kids can handle a discussion of threatening events, but if your kids tend toward the sensitive side, be sure to keep them away from the TV news; repetitive images and stories can make dangers appear greater, more prevalent, and closer to home.

Be available for questions and conversation. At this age, many kids will see the morality of events in stark black-and-white terms and are in the process of developing their moral beliefs. You may have to explain the basics of prejudice, bias, and civil and religious strife. But be careful about making generalizations, since kids will take what you say to the bank. This is a good time to ask them what they know, since they'll probably have gotten their information from friends, and you may have to correct facts.

Talk about -- and filter -- news coverage. You might explain that even news programs compete for viewers, which sometimes affects content decisions. If you let your kids use the Internet, go online with them. Some of the pictures posted are simply grisly. Monitor where your kids are going, and set your URLs to open to non-news-based portals.

Tips for teens

Check in. Since, in many instances, teens will have absorbed the news independently of you, talking with them can offer great insights into their developing politics and their senses of justice and morality. It will also help you get a sense of what they already know or have learned about the situation from their own social networks. It will also give you the opportunity to throw your own insights into the mix (just don't dismiss theirs, since that will shut down the conversation immediately).

Let teens express themselves. Many teens will feel passionately about events and may even personalize them if someone they know has been directly affected. They'll also probably be aware that their own lives could be affected by violence. Try to address their concerns without dismissing or minimizing them. If you disagree with media portrayals, explain why so your teens can separate the mediums through which they absorb news from the messages conveyed.

Additional resources

For more information on how to talk to your kids about a recent tragedy, please visit the National Association of School Psychologists or the American Psychological Association. For more on how news can impact kids, check out News and America's Kids: How Young People Perceive and Are Impacted by the News,

Marie-Louise Mares, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, contributed to this article.

About Caroline Knorr

Image of blog author
As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

Add comment

Sign in or sign up to share your thoughts

Comments (53)

Teen, 13 years old written by Moviegirl700

If you pay attention to the news (leave papers in the house, watch it on TV, listen to the radio, or online where little eyes can see) can be an eye-opener to little kids and tweens alike. Is this good or bad? Depending on the news, it can be either. Political opinions will most likely make kids zone out (most kids begin to pay attention at 12, I was really into the 2016 debate). But issues like natural disasters, shootings and the like can really do damage. My mother and father love the weather. I have an awful fear. Whenever there's a hurricane, it's in our living room. Fires? Boom. 2-6 aged kids should be as sheltered as possible. 7-9 should watch natural disasters and political (as long as there is nothing too bad...) 10-12 should be able to watch most anything, with the exception of kidnappings, as this can be traumatizing at any age. 13+ should be able to watch anything. NOTE: DEPENDING ON THE ISSUE ON THE NEWS, IT MAY BE BAD FOR EVEN ADULTS. KIDNAPPINGS AND SHOOTINGS ARE WHAT WE SHOULD REALLY BE CONCERNED ABOUT. PROTECT OUR KIDS!
Adult written by Jsivaches

Simple answer; don't pay attention to the news. I didn't even know about the vegas shooting until a few weeks afterwards. Simply don't watch the news and don't let your kids watch the news. I mean if it comes up somehow or it effected your family just talk to them about it but otherwise ignore it.
Kid, 10 years old

I live in Canada and American news stations SUCK I only watch them because they have American ads the Canadian news does not have bias or anything like that.
Teen, 13 years old written by TheMarioFan

Oh, you have to post a post out of everything. I'm more of a happy guy, there are only 4 things (which i call The Frightening Four) i always remember. World War I World War II Princess Diana's Death 9/11 Honorable Mention: Micheal Jackson's Death I mean, if you remember the Paris attack of 2014 say "PARIS" in all caps
Adult written by Taryn B.

Im really interested in what parents think of 10 year olds watching the news. In my sons grade they are showing them videos of North Korea, terrorism and other horrible issues. My son is very sensitive. Had he not told me about it I wouldnt have known. He has become a lot more scared after watching such news. Do you let your 10 year old watch news like this? Why or why not?
Kid, 10 years old

I'm 10 (almost 11) and I know what sexual assault is. Maybe my parents aren't as overprotective as some. Although I do know what sex is.
Kid, 10 years old

Look, as a 10 year old I do the NY Times's mini crossword every day, and that means I'll have to look at the front page. I'm not a baby. I agree with the opinion expressed here that you generally shouldn't be showing graphic pictures of bombings to toddlers, but it's ridiculous to "protect" kids my age. I do mini crosswords, I flip through New Yorkers to look at cartoons, and I'm on Google pretty often. You don't have to "explain" the basics of bias to me. I'm pretty updated on the news. I don't live under a rock. This article is getting ridiculous considering the age ranges the writer slaps on things. Tone it down a notch, Helicopter Parents!
Adult written by Charlie o.

You must certainly avoid the non-stop news that drives a certain point-of-view. My 14 year old was watching over an hour of CNN and asked me 'when did Pres. Trump say anything wrong?' as they talking-heads kept saying, over and over again. The media narratives take a bad situation and instead of reporting facts, reported their view (Trump was racist). Anyone who bothered to read the transcript knows that wasn't the case.
Parent written by Nina K.

I personally find it useful and wise to talk about ideas rather than personalities. Too much rhetoric is about Trump and what he says or does not say. I'm not a supporter by any means but we need to talk about what's wrong with the ideology that drives people to think that are superior by birth, instead we get caught up in the rhetoric of who is racist and who isn't. Never too early to talk about ideas with children. News & social media is cluttered with slogans. It's good to teach kids to separate the wheat from the chaff. Kids who are white and kids who are not are going to have different feelings about this. I'd say instead of assuming & patronizing just talk to your kid, mostly just listen. You'd be surprised how simple their logic is sometimes.
Adult written by Hailo C.

Is Common Sense completely against Trump? As far as I know, he said he condemns the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazis, and the white supremacists. He might not have said that on time, but just a reminder, he's not racist. He actually has a few black people in his administration, and he has donated to both whites and PoC, and his daughter is a Jewish convert.
Parent of a 11 year old written by TeeButOne

Wow, talk about one-sided. By all means condemn the atrocious violent act that left a young woman dead, but putting that aside, if that idiot hadn't driven through the crowd and done what he did, none of this would have even been discussed. Instead, we would have simply been discussing the usual: - A group of right-wing morons turn up somewhere to have a protest / whinge, and then - A group of even more moronic left-wing whingers turn up to restrict the 1st Amendment Rights of the first group (freedom of speech, freedom of assembly) It's always the same. You never see right-wingers come out and try to stop far-left-wingers from protesting all of the rubbish that they spout on a regular basis, but as soon as the far-right-wingers come out to protest, the left-wingers try to shut them down. Yes, the neo-nazi group are moronic and deserved to be condemned for their attitudes, but shutting down their right to speak and assemble just makes it worse.
Kid, 12 years old

It's kind of hard to share the bad news to kids of any age especially like in my case,near or on a special occasion because that can be very upsetting. On my birthday when I found out about the tragic murder of my favorite singer, I was completely devastated.
Kid, 11 years old

Personally, I take news seriously, I am always mature about the topic if any terrorists and many other topics that are usually inappropriate for anyone at my age. I get scared but I stay calm and understand the problem. It depends on your child's personality, sensitivity, maturity and sometimes age.
Kid, 10 years old

I knew what sex was before my school taught us about it, but everyone else did too... O__O
Teen, 13 years old written by wackywert

This generalizes kids so much I want to cry. I for one actively read the news when I was 8. Not all kids are the same, I've never been sheltered from the news, and I feel it's been good for me. I have developed into a teenager who can determine my own feelings about the world with out relying on my parents to tell me what to think, a rare occurrence these days.
Teen, 14 years old written by PJC15

I do not know how someone can write so patronisingly about children in this way, any teenager will understand what has happened in the news, sometimes more than their parents. I for one know more about the background of wars ongoing in the Middle East than my parents as I constantly find myself explaining to my parents about these times.
Teen, 13 years old written by mcracco

I just feel that you shouldn't have to come up with ways to tell your kids just tell them what . Happened like with Paris just tell them that bad people bombed Paris I mean all kids want to hear is the truth with no sugar coating because they are eventually going to find out what actually happened.
Parent of a 14 year old written by dmag

I am praying for France and all the victims and their families just like everyone else, but honestly I feel sad when I see how much people and the media care about the attacks in Paris and no one cared about the attacks in that college in Kenya back in April where 147 innocent people died, or the attack at a school in Pakistan back in December where 145 people, mostly children died. Are third world country people less important than Europeans? I just don't get it. Thanks
Teen, 16 years old written by Superepicpizza

It may sound cold, but some of the third-world countries that get bombed daily, while being tragic and horrible, are things that have been going on for years and years now, it's like if the news decided to report "In other news, the internet is still up, and has been for years!" every day.
Adult written by jeannev1

I don't think that third world countries are lesser important than European countries. I believe, however, that there is much more shock when something happens where many Americans have visited. Paris is, after all, one of America's darling destinations. People dream of visiting on a honeymoon, etc.; there is a plethora of photographs; it's more familiar. The attacks in Beirut, Kenya, Pakistan, and daily in Syria and Iraq are just as disturbing, however, these places are less familiar to the average American.
Parent written by Walt L

My daughter was 6 when 9/11 hit. We lived in New Jersey and she had just been to the mall there a few weeks prior for a book signing. Wasn't much of an option to hide the news in that case, but she handled it pretty well. Built lego towers and crashed planes into them, then 'talked' to the pilots. Kids are more resilient than most people give them credit for. Make sure they know you're there to protect them - that more than anything else will make them feel safe.
Teen, 16 years old written by Maya16

It is impossible to keep this from kids. I know it is the least expected thing to happen at a concert venue. Even the band U2 who were supposed to be in Paris did not perform this weekend.
Adult written by isaaclee

if you want to teach your children about new, why start slow and introduce events like, someone winning a race, an upcoming election and who won, etc. As your child gets older, then you can introduce them to news about certain tragedies, murders, etc. your children will eventually get older and learn the truth. the can either choose to be scared because the truth is scary or they can just live their life but keep updated so they know better on ways they can protect themselves so they wont be as scared.
Adult written by pumphouse3

News is not always bad. So it may not be the best approach to keep them shielded from news and current affairs. It is important for kids to know that reading the news can help them know what is going on in the world and this in turn can help,them with their reading and writing skills. Of course the news has to be selected for their age group, but it can get them into the habit of reading news which will in turn help them with their literacy skills. We have developed an online news media platform which delivers child appropriate content. It was trialled with 250 kids and in the space of two weeks, 550 kids responded to the news articles with their written reports on the articles. So there is a need there for kids to have the means to read age appropriate news, but which also rewards their involvement in responding with their views as well.
Adult written by Senser123

I personally feel we need more good news stories than ever at all levels especially financially and politically and socially like say when a president announces he or she has signed a bill into law that will cause changes for the better instead of the worse or has lived up to a campaign promise.
Parent of a 8, 10, and 12 year old written by helpfulparent

My daughter was in sixth grade last year (kids 10-12-mostly 11 and 12). She had current events every week. She had to research things like Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, situation in Egypt, Greece's riots and bankruptcy, spread of STDs, Ukraine and Russia, etc. In seventh grade, it is a mandatory part of the curriculum.
Kid, 11 years old

I'm in fifth grade, and today I overheard some of my classmates talking about the "Boston Marathon tragedy". Even though half of the kids in my class are obnoxious, I think that they are mature enough to handle the subject matter... it all depends on your child. Some kids are more sensitive than others. I agree with the user who said that kids know more than you think. Probably everyone in my class knows what sex is thanks to the media glamorizing those things. In fact, once a girl in my class called a boy sexist (he's honestly an idiot) and he was ignorant enough to say "EWW, (GIRL'S NAME), YOU'RE DISGUSTING!!!". And many kids today may also grow up thinking sex is disgusting, when it is actually a very beautiful thing (Hmmm.... How were we conceived? Although I assume they have not matured yet, as most kids begin having sexual thoughts as they begin puberty).
Kid, 12 years old

Now this was some scary stuff. I heard about this from a kid in my class who used no details whatsoever and made everyone think it was at the elementary schools that went to our school.So yeah I was SCARED.
Teen, 13 years old written by Rango813

I agree with lovehopelife's comment. I understand that Common Sense Media's main purpose is to inform parents on upsetting events (such as this, the TDKR massacre, and maybe even Columbine if the site had existed then) and media's content, but kids know a LOT more about sex, violence, and language than this site lets on. I feel as though the people who write these believe that children are whimpering, unknowledgeable little creatures that need to be reassured with everything that it happening, which is true, but only for SOME children, say, 5 to 8? That is the time where most children have extremely overactive imaginations, so they might need the most reassuring. Don't get me wrong, I have an overactive imagination, too, and I'm 13! I saw TDKR on the day of the massacre and I was freaking out, but I think that is because I watch too many crime shows. Let's have an example: A seven year old hears about a minorly upsetting event on Fox News (my favorite news channel) about how the environment is dying. Would you people, as parents, prohibit news watching if the only event your child had seen was about recycling and helping the planet? I wouldn't, but then again, it depends on what they see. I remember when I was around seven or eight or nine, the Vanessa Hudgens controversy was just making headlines (anyone else remember?). What I admire about my parents is the fact they were not overprotective and all like, "Oh you poor child! Let us not show you the news anymore, because the news is terrible for young minds like yours!" They just told me that it was very bad and that I should never do it. And I listened. So please, parents, use your own judgement and use the news as a learning experience for your young children as to what is moral and immoral (right and wrong). Thank you for your time.
Kid, 11 years old

Hey!!! i'm only 11 years-old. BUT i understand wayyyy to much i love movies and video games but, well, they have to much SEX in them. Most parents don't know it but kids in between 8 & 14 know way more than they should. I wish i didn't know about all this sex and stuff, like... "when a mommy and daddy love each other very much" stuff, I HATE IT WHEN there's an ad on TV for bra's or underpants :( EWWWW why do they even advertise that on kids channels? I HAVE A SERIOUS PROBLEM RIGHT NOW! because i looked up where baby's come from because i'm an only child and my mom said that a stork brings it to the mommy, but how did it get into her stomach..............? So i looked it up on google and i wish i did not search it SO when all of us are living in a world like this, how do i tell my mom that i searched that? Because if i do "SHE'LL KILL ME!" what should i do? A lot of parents don't know what kids like us are finding online out of curiosity. I'm a boy so i still think girls are kind of icky, but...... Why do baby's have to be born THAT WAY why can't they just fall out of the sky? PLEASE REPLY TO ME ANYBODY!!! -szgn1
Adult written by mymedia

In my opinion TV is loaded with ADULT content. Whether it is the news, reality TV, Violent movies, shows with inappropriate language, bad behavior, etc. Even commercials can be violent and filled with inappropriate messages for Kids. I find it appalling that I can not watch a show with my 11 and 12 year old without a preview of some violent movie or a Victoria Secrets commercial. Television and the internet do not seem to filter content with kids in mind. I do not allow my 11 and 12 year old to watch the news and I gave very few details about the Auroa shooting but I had to talk to them about it because they saw it on TV at a friends house. Kids should be kids and not be so full of anxiety and worry about bad and scary things. Kids need parents to be better role models and use more common sense when they allow their children to see and hear ADULT situations. I believe the PG-13 movie rating is a joke. For one thing the majority of these movies should be R (restricted) because of the violence that they contain. And also, parents do not adhere to the ratings because many allow their young children (4-14 years old) to view these movies. It is NOT OK!
Parent of a 8 and 14 year old written by valmay67

I know that this post is old, but it is still relative to this unfortunate event. I agree with this persons post. Our children are made to be adults way before they are ready. They never had a chance to be kids. They are exposed to so much from the media whether it is tv, internet or gaming. Even if they are watching a supposed good channel like "ABC Family", which is a total joke, tshowing commercials for older audiences like Pretty Little Liars and more. Plus, let's talk about sports. How many of your children love NFL Football or Pro Basketball or Hockey? They are exposed to Viagra commercials giving us all the warnings of erections lasting more than 4 hours and to seek medical attention! Thank you so much for sharing this information with ALL of us. Sports are not just for older men, us women and children enjoy watching as well! And yes, the Victoria Secret commercials are leaning toward pornography as well. I also agree that TV and movie ratings are a joke, you are correct. I am not old fashioned or a prude, I just think that there is a time and place for everything, and just let kids be kids for a little while longer. They will be adults for the rest of their lives, why rush into it? I'm 45, and I wish I was a kid again sometimes. Thank you for reading.
Adult written by davyborn

Kids are smart. With all of the resources all around us, and with all of the modern technology that surrounds us, even kids as young as 5 or 6 will eventually find out some way or another. Still, I really do believe that it is very important to let them know when the facts that they heard were true, and when they were completely false.
Kid, 10 years old

I am always scared about how the world is going to be. I am probaly the most scared 10 year old in the world. I am afraid that I will be one of those people. I am pretty big so I am not very fast and I am worried!!!!!!!!!!!! People need to TAKE A STAND FOR THE GOOD SIDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Kid, 12 years old

I hope my mum reads this. Maybe she'll turn of the news when I'm there cause it always upsets me. Nowadays al news it bad news. :(
Teen, 15 years old written by Kingdestroyah

Alright, I'm 12, and the fact that you treat people that are 12 like they are idiots in this article is fairly offending. You treat us like we're 6 on this website. STOP DOING THAT. You probably think kids my age will be scared to go to TDKR because of the massacre. We are not. Stop acting like we are so much younger than we are.
Teen, 14 years old written by Beeblebrox

THANK YOU. As a thirteen year old, I feel that this website does not credit my personal, and my friends personal knowledge. We all know about sex, and the majority of my friends are avid news watchers. I think that it is important for kids of any age to watch the news, especially as they reach the ages of 9 and above (for an averagely mature child in today's society), because it opens children's eyes to the fact that tragic things happen in this world, and it allows for children to develop skills by, as I do often in school, debating over certain news issues. It also allows for development of empathy, as the tragic story of the many refugees, and the conditions they face, allows children to empathise, and to see that they are privileged. Thanks.
Kid, 12 years old

that event was a sad traguic event that shouldint be talked about to kids and im sorry if they know god bless the victums
Teen, 15 years old written by sisterwhocares

A tip for parents, teens, and kids: in the media, and especially in the news, there is going to be PLENTY of bias and political favoring towards a certain party/polititian. Always be skeptical, and do not automatically believe everything that they say about polititians on the news. Do your research, but don't do "opposing viewpoints" research if you are easily swayed by people's POVs. Search up FACTS. If you aren't quite sure whether something is fact or fiction (believe me, it's actually really, really hard to tell the difference sometimes), then ask others, or ask yourself questions. What is the problem? Why is it such a big deal? Is the brought-up solution what is right to do, or is it just what people want to hear? Asking questions can help you discern political facts from the bias.
Teen, 14 years old written by Beeblebrox

And this is why it gives such a great opportunity for children. It allows parents to teach children about says bias, and attempt to teach them about separating the facts.
Teen, 13 years old written by lovehopelife

Im suprised Adults dont already know that kids know way more than you think. We know things that we shouldnt know till were 21 i think. So open your eyes Adults and Perents were smater than we may come across as.
written by Anonymous

Point taken lovehopelife, but adolescents notoriously think they know everything - quite naturally, it being a function of age that their brand-spankingly shiny new opinions have yet to be informed by the softening and weathering that experience brings..... Often, when we are older, we learn to cringe with embarrassment at the memory of our adolescent selves; indeed, some of us may also lament that we give such a poor impression of our abilities and intelligence when we express our views in writing to the world, and regret that we failed to learn stuff like grammar, punctuation and spelling when we were at school. A 16th century Frenchman, Henri Estienne, is often quoted (in France) as saying: "Si jeunesse savoit; si vieillesse pouvoit"..... roughly translated, it means: "If only youth had the knowledge; if old age had the strength".
Teen, 15 years old written by LukeTheGreat

Being a teenager myself, I can say that lovehopelife's comment is technically true, but doesn't set a very good example for his claim to our overall intelligence. Either way, I think that this is talking more about children who are legitimately too young to comprehend motivations behind the Aurora shooting or other such depravities. If lovehopelife had actually read the whole thing, he'd have seen that it acknowledges that teens are generally mature and intelligent enough to handle these sorts of issues.