Exposure to mayhem - what price?

Apr. 20, 2013 @ 03:59 PM

As America endured a week of tragedy and mayhem engulfing TV and social media, High Point native Sara Britt Grein could keep her 2-year-old daughter Libby shielded from the coverage.
But the 31-year-old teacher realizes that in a few years, when her daughter is older and more aware, she won’t be able to entirely insulate Libby from the next Boston or Newtown or Aurora or Virginia Tech or Columbine or Oklahoma City.
“It’s something you have to think about, that she’d be seeing all that at much too young of an age,” said Grein, who works as an academic support specialist at Westchester Country Day School. 
Grein’s daughter will grow up in a rapidly changing digital world, a society where, by the time she begins grade school, Libby might learn almost exclusively on an iPad or other high-tech device. Her daughter may have digital routes, even in elementary school, to see images of tragic events in ways Grein can’t envision now.
“By the time she’s 13, what’s it going to be like? She’ll be ever-connected,” she said.

Saturation of heartbreak 

Today’s era of hypercovered tragedies leaves many parents, counselors and psychologists wondering if the digital suffocation of daily life will rob children of a shrinking innocence of youth.
Tragic events have and will occur, and for generations had an impact on children, said Amber Kelley of High Point, a licensed professional counselor
“Bad things have always happened. I think the difference is that our ability to be exposed to those things have changed, especially in the past 20 years,” Kelley said.
A generation ago, before cells phones, the Internet and social media were commonplace, parents and teachers could have more control over when, where and how children learned about tragic events. Now a child may see the event in real-time on a digital device before parents may be aware something happened.
“Now you have 24-hour media coverage,” Kelley said.
Grein said when her daughter is old enough, and something tragic unfolds in public, the family will rely in large part on their faith.
“Just trying to instill that in her, to let her know that the good outweighs the bad,” said Grein, who attends First Presbyterian Church with her husband, Dalton.

The reality of change won’t change

Kelley said parents, teachers and other concerned adults have to accept the reality that saturation coverage of tragedy won’t change. What adults can control is how they teach their children to cope with exposure to mayhem.
“There is some increased risk of children having anxiety about the future, about their own safety, because they are learning about these bad things that are happening to other people. And they might start to wonder, ‘Could this happen to me?’” said Christopher Lootens, assistant professor of psychology at High Point University.
Lootens said parents can help their children cope with large-scale tragic events by calmly explaining the reality of hurt, but reminding children that much good happens as well.
“I think this provides an opportunity for parents to teach their children a valuable lesson about the world,” he said. 
pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528