nine-year-old daughter returned from her friend's house in tears after
they were caught checking out "sex" on the Internet. How do you suggest
I handle this?
My seven-year-old son watched a video in school about a
boy who had experienced a terrorist attack. He repeated what the boy
had said: 'I was on a bus, everything went dark, there was a huge bang,
a smell of burning, I saw bodies lying all around me and people were
dead.' My son was very upset and left the room. Should first-grade
children be watching this?
Dear Dr. Batya,
Since earlier columns have addressed both how to talk to
children about sex and coping with terrorism, I'd like to address these
two moms' concerns regarding the media "exposure" the children
As parents you want to protect your children. Yet no
matter how hard you work to try and shelter them, they are likely to
inadvertently gain access to inappropriate information before they have
the maturity to understand it.
While researching this column I Googled the word "sex" as the
girls innocently did. Wow - nothing is sacred anymore. No shortage of
close-up and personal photos and no difficulty in accessing way too
Now imagine that you are the parent of the sweet
innocent little boy who was shown videos of children discussing the
horrific carnage after a terrorist attack. How would you respond? What
do these scenarios teach us about how our own children feel good about
themselves, respect others and value what you believe is important in
Here are a few thoughts: Give your children the tools they need
to make informed decisions. As best as you can, try to monitor your
children's actions. You can't be everywhere. Often you'll be forced to
do damage control. With technology advancing so quickly, your children
will have access to a variety of information and opportunities at an
increasingly earlier age. It therefore behooves you, as early as
possible, to give your children the tools they need to make informed
For young children this may mean teaching them to ask such
simple questions as: "What will happen if I do this? What will happen
if I don't? What would my mom or dad say if they were here now? Would
they be happy, sad or angry with my choice? Do I feel uncomfortable
about what I am going to do? Is what I am doing okay? If I am not sure,
Use these "negative events" as teaching opportunities. While
you might deal differently with these issues than these parents, these
situations nonetheless provide the opportunity to help your child
understand realities and learn what is appropriate for them and why.
Ask your kids what they think may have happened and what they know.
This is an opportunity to hear how they may view their world and clear
up any misperceptions. This is the time to let children know that no
topics are off limits and you will be there to help them understand
what they saw, as best as you can.
While you may be uncomfortable with some of these topics, and
might like to just forget about it, this is your opportunity to help
your children learn what you value, understand why and help them
rewrite the script in a healthier way.
Children benefit from feeling safe. As parents, your job is to
try to provide your child with a sense of security. While this material
is readily available, many children are frightened by it. Your role as
parent is one of education as well as reassurance that all is okay. As
children feel good about themselves, it often becomes easier for them
to make good personal decisions and reduce their own sense of fear or
Children need access to age appropriate information that is
straightforward and honest. Kids need to be able to ask questions, get
answers and be heard on a level they can understand. While these two
children stumbled upon information that was inappropriate, they still
need information that can reduce their concerns and fears and satisfy
Set up child-led learning experiences. You and your child may
have a very different set of expectations, so make sure that your
agenda and his match. Make sure that you answer his questions. Some
children are more interested than others about what is going on around
Be aware of information overload and check for signs of
distress. Both children above were "traumatized" to some degree.
Whether it was being caught and being disciplined for one child or
hearing upsetting information for another, neither child could walk
away from the situation. A child who is momentarily upset, but forgets
quickly and moves on, differs from one who regresses, has difficulties
in eating, sleeping, socialization, school, etc. for more than a day or
two. If you feel your child is having difficulty, make sure he or she
chats with a professional if you don't feel you can handle it.
Ask yourself if what you are saying is helpful. You want to
teach your child your positive values, not transmit your own concerns,
fears or anxieties. Deal with yours with a friend, partner or
professional. There is nothing to be gained in sharing them with young
Teach children safe and responsible use of the Internet. While
clearly the school should not have shown this video, this little boy
showed amazing strength and courage to walk out of the room. Through
discussion of what the media is all about, children can learn to
question what is out there, and choose appropriate material. If a child
would not feel comfortable having you watch with them, chances are they
shouldn't be watching. While you may want your child to grow up without
any bumps and bruises, think of it as making your kids more resilient.
Enjoy even these moments while you can.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.
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