“The first TikTok war” – why ECEC educators need to be aware of children’s media
Children of all ages are being exposed to disturbing content through digital devices, and while disturbing content in the media is nothing new, the frequency and ease with which children and young people can access disturbing content is unprecedented, and something which early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals need to be aware of.
Dr Brian Moore, a psychologist from Charles Sturt University’s School of Education, has used two recent events – the outbreak of war in the Ukraine, and a shark attack on a Sydney beach – to illustrate the type of content children are potentially being exposed to, and how this may require further support.
The 24-hour media cycle perpetuates a constant stream of narrative and images that can be difficult for children to understand, he said, not to mention the informal and unvetted sources of information that can be accessed via social media.
“The conflict in Ukraine and the video footage of a shark attack at a Sydney beach are distinctly different, yet both involve disturbing and graphic content,” he continued.
“Both received, or are receiving, extensive formal media coverage, and both have a significant social media presence. The video footage of the Sydney shark attack rapidly went viral, while the conflict in Ukraine has the unfortunate distinction of being referred to as ‘the first TikTok war’.”
Children having ongoing exposure to graphic and disturbing media content has the potential to normalise this type of content, or may leave children feeling stressed and anxious about what they are seeing and hearing in the media, particularly if it involves depictions of injury and death.
“These are not issues our society addresses effectively. Often these ideas are sanitised, if discussed at all,” Dr Moore said.
‘Vicarious trauma’ arises from continuous exposure to victims of trauma and violence. The concept is typically considered as a workforce issue (for example, affecting emergency services workers).
“However, it is conceivable that a similar effect may occur for children regarding ongoing exposure to disturbing media content,” Dr Moore explained. “This could lead to various issues including difficulty managing emotions, distraction, and feeling vulnerable.”
There are several practical things caring adults can do many things to manage children’s exposure to complex issues and disturbing content, including:
- Try and be aware of the content children are accessing
- Internet filtering software can be useful
- Restrict the use of internet in “hidden” spaces
- Give children a safe space to talk about disturbing media content
- Find opportunities to speak with children about what they are seeing and hearing.
“Finding the opportunity to talk is an important first step,” Dr Moore said.
“This might occur naturally in the course of conversation, but you also might need to raise the topic. It can be as simple as, “There’s been a lot of media coverage about [insert topic here]. Have you seen it? What do you think about it?”
Conversations shouldn’t be forced. However, he continued, “you might find children actually want to talk, especially if they’re worried about what they’ve seen.”
Showing attention and interest in children’s responses is vital.
“If you’re going to ask the question, it’s important to listen to what the child is saying. Try to resist the temptation to interrupt and talk over the child. This can sometimes be difficult for adults, but you should be aiming for a conversation, not a lecture.”
Children may have unrealistic ideas and fears about the situation (or these might be well-founded). Reassure children that they’re safe, but don’t make promises that you may not have the control over to keep. Be honest, but cautious with explicit detail, especially with younger children.
Not knowing all the answers is ok, and it can be powerful for children to see that adults struggle with these big questions too.
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