On a Saturday morning, we wake to the horrific news of 20 children massacred in an insane rampage in a school in the US, and of another 18 children injured in a knife attack in China. While we adults have a hard time comprehending such senseless tragedies, try explaining the reasons to a curious 10-year-old.
Surrounded, as most of us are, by newspapers and magazines of all types — the contents of which are all pretty disturbing — I’ve often wondered how does one expose all the interesting news to kids, while keeping out the violent, potentially frightening stuff. And whether we should be screening the scary images anyway. Indian newspapers, especially, have a rape, molestation and child abuse headline every single day in some part of the paper. I wonder why they don’t just create a separate page titled “violence in the country” or some such heading, so for those of us jaded by reading the same depressing snippets everyday, can skip the page with ease. Children understand much more than we give them credit for. My nine-year-old son gets The Mentalist, a police drama about a psychic reading people’s minds. Probably not ideal viewing for a child, but parents need to relax too and it’s very difficult to shield your children from creepy shows, if you enjoy watching them. On the other hand, violence, natural disasters and war are part of human existence and though it’s all extremely confusing to a young person, a pre-teen is old enough to know about it.
Newspapers, I firmly believe, offer great perspective and are a positive educational experience for kids, at least those old enough to differentiate between fact and fiction. In America, the newspaper habit is dying out with statistics suggesting that only one in 20 per cent of adult Americans get their news from the paper, most preferring the Internet or TV news for current events. TV news, however, is much more in-your-face and requires careful monitoring, if your kids are watching it. Reading about a civil war in Syria is very different from seeing moving images of young men holding guns, or children suffering in refugee camps. This can alter perceptions and frighten kids. The truth — of it being a very dangerous and hard world out there — may be too much to digest.
Recently, I’ve started reading Young Minds, an innovative weekly newspaper for children up to 16 years of age. Published out of Delhi, their front page carries headlines like “IOC suspends India from Olympics” and “FDI: To be or not to be” with an illustration of the PM in front of Parliament. The stories could be written better, but they do a pretty decent job of simplifying complicated issues such as FDI. Young Minds carries filtered, interesting tidbits on science, facts, sports, puzzles and jokes, designed to appeal to teenagers and pre-teens. Their website has a testimonial by Shah Rukh Khan and by educationist Shyama Chona. There’s also BBC Knowledge, a magazine available at most bookstores, which is published every quarter, and carries an interesting range of stories on history, global warming and enduring mysteries of the world. Kids also gravitate to soft stories on celebrities rather than hard news. For them to develop any insight into the larger issues of the world and society, current affairs should be part of a curriculum.