Why are they fighting? What is the conflict? What is happening? These are just a few of the common questions some parents are answering this week as their young children try to understand the events in Ukraine, where a Russian invasion of the country has been unfolding for the past week.
As the world consumes disturbing images aired on televisions and online, it is difficult to process for some — especially kids.
Jessica Fries of Westbrook, Connecticut, has an 11-year-old who has posed these questions to her.
“We just keep assuring him that he’s safe at home and the world’s a crazy place,” Fries said.
Dr. Robert Keder, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician from Connecticut Children’s Hospital, said that’s a smart approach for younger children. Keder advised that it's best not to lie to them but explain in simple terms; give them only enough information so that they understand, he says.
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“For a very young child, explaining the concept of war could be that people are fighting, and that it’s big and that there are armies and soldiers who are involved,” said Dr. Keder.
Caroline Austin has three children. Her youngest is 13, and she’s concerned about the images and stories her kids are seeing.
“One of the things they know is that when bombs hit, to be honest, people’s lives are shattered, and they’re seeing that,” she said.
Dr. Keder explains that the stories and information each child is receiving could be comprehended differently, so he advises a proactive approach.
“Even if they are not talking about it, we can check in and kind of see what they know is going on or just kind of bring it up,” Keder explained.
The accessibility of images and videos depicting graphic military scenes on social media is also changing the calculus for parents, who themselves grew up with a younger and less all-pervading internet.
“It’s on TikTok. It’s all over,” said Austin. “Everything is in their face. There’s no shielding them from anything. You can’t hide anything.”
Using the power of social networks, Ukrainian influencers and other citizens are posting stark images and videos of a violent conflict. University of New Haven's distinguished journalism lecturer Professor Susan Campbell said this is powerful.
“I’m old enough to remember the first Gulf War when it felt like the attacks were happening in real time, via television. This is even more granular,” she said.
Paul and Ashley Stairs have three teenage boys and said they are trying to protect them from social media right now, using parental filters and monitors. They are also monitoring their feeds closely.
“You just have to watch TikTok. Unfortunately, they don’t like it, but you really must pay attention to it,” Ashley said.
Limiting access to such a broad range of apps, like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and others, isn't as easy as it might have once been to turn off the television. But it's still the right decision, according to Campbell.
“There are all kinds of filters to employ,” said Campbell. “If you’re a parent with children over the age of 9 who’s on social media, you should have them on now.”
Social media can also be a source of misinformation. Keder urges parents to find out what their children think they know, and if there are inaccuracies, gently correct them as best they can with high-quality sources. He also urges parents to gauge the level of distress based upon their own concerns.
“If you find something that’s hard to process as an adult, then they are going to find that hard to process as a child,” said Keder.
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