Helping your child during the current situation in the Middle East

Our young people will likely hear about the unfolding situation in the Middle East either through their social media feeds or overhearing adults. Clinical psychologists Dr Judith Locke and Dr Danielle Einstein share tips on how parents can support their children.

In a time when your child may be exposed to horrific images, how can you reduce the risk? Here are some short tips for parents.

Talking to your child and managing their social media

This morning, the situation peaked with terrorists releasing video footage on social media too horrific for words. Thus, if your child is on social media they are likely to be exposed to this footage.

To overcome this, parents need to set up boundaries. Protect them from the anxiety and distress elicited by images and heartbreaking stories.

If they are young. Don’t be afraid to turn off their phone or tablet now. This is sensible. You could say that there is some awful stuff on social media right now and you want to protect them. Only say this, if you know that it will not ignite curiosity in them. Remember you are the parent, you can take technology off them. Instead if you have the time, do something fun as a family like play a board game or take a walk to get everyone an ice-cream.

For older children. Tell them not to watch, but be aware that the older they are, the more access and choice they have. Ideally, spend time as a family. If you all want to be up to date and are all of the right age, then watch the news on TV, as networks are likely to be a bit more sensible in their choice of footage. Then, when the story is over, switch over to something different. Now is not the time for 24 hour news footage, it will continue to bring heightened emotion, as the situation is yet to be resolved. Comedies and old favourites are good distractions.

Keep checking in with them. Keep checking in with yourself.

What if your child wants to view the footage

Kids are curious and, often, so are adults. We can’t blame anyone for their curiosity — it’s important to stay up to date with world events. Learning about history with hindsight, allows us to examine the event from all angles in a grounded way. We are all trying to digest the story as it unfolds, and this often involves scrambling for meaning and leaving space for arguments when unfiltered views emerge. WhatsApp is a medium with no checks due to the encrypted messages that are shared. Therefore, there is even more onus on the sharer to filter videos and opinion.

It is not caring to share a video that we have seen or our opinion on something horrific with an awful photo, particularly if we share indiscriminately.

Thus, make sure that your child doesn’t share the images in a manner that distresses others. If your child is of the right age, you might explain that caring people do not do things that harm others, such as sharing images or saying inflammatory or extremely emotional things. This could be a teachable moment for your child.

Managing your own wellbeing

When emotions are high, news is unfolding and views are discrepant, the potential for social media to ignite arguments and cause hysteria must be taken seriously. Thus if you are likely to become upset at some people’s views then turn off social media. Be disciplined in this, don’t make yourself feel worse.

Instead, seek the company of others who you trust and love. They can check on you and you can check on them to see how we are reacting and they can adjust their responses. If you are only doing this sharing and communication online, then there is no protection. Even just making a phone call is going to help you more than scrolling social media.

Many people’s need for connection in a time of turbulence is so urgent, it might become somewhat second nature. Sometimes we want to reach out to many others on WhatsApp to tell them of our distress in a manner that invites them in, and, we agree, that can be helpful. But sometimes it’s not. Although we think that group conversation always makes everyone feel better and more connected, keep in mind that others may not feel the same or may not want to be reminded. Thus, now is the time to communicate our strong emotional needs directly with people, and check in with one person at a time. This will ensure that group dynamics don’t take over and nobody is trying to cater to everyone’s varying emotions and reactions in a single conversation. This will keep the tone of the group, as a whole, calm and supportive. You can also teach your children how to be similarly considerate when in a group conversation.

If you have a particular sensitivity to the situation

If you are personally involved, then witnessing the trauma as it unfolds will make it very difficult to function. Just as you start to adjust to the horrific piece of information that has come in, the next piece arrives.

Take care of yourself now. Again, the best solution to this is to switch off the source of endless bits of news, and seek the support of loved ones, caring others, or support lines.

© Dr Judith Locke and Dr Danielle Einstein

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About Judith & Danielle

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. The eSafety Commissioner also has information about what to do and how to get support if you see online content that is seriously harmful and disturbing.

Dr Danielle Einstein is an Adjunct Fellow at Macquarie University, specialising in anxiety and technology use. She shares some of what she has learned about screen use in the new Australian documentary, Disconnect Me. This week her team’s research explained why social media use is associated with an increase in anxiety for some students and a decrease for others.

Dr Judith Locke is a clinical psychologist and the author of parenting books, The Bonsai Child and The Bonsai Student. The Bonsai Child is also available in Mandarin.

Both Judith and Danielle deliver sessions for parents, teachers and students in schools across Australia.