Scary News addresses an issue that touches all parents today: how to prepare children for life in a scary world while also protecting their hearts and minds and nurturing their natural inner joy.
Today’s headlines are often frightening. How can loving parents help their children open their hearts and feel secure and confident—while growing up in a world full of violence and media messages that promote anxiety and fear? Lorna Knox answers this question in a warm, friendly style, using personal anecdotes and dozens of effective realistic suggestions. The author of I Came from Joy! Spiritual Affirmations and Activities for Children, again offers practical ideas for parents and anyone who shares his life with children. She reassures us that we can help our children gain the inner strength and wisdom they will need to lead balanced and joyful lives, while taking control of our own fears in the process.
- Learn simple guidelines for deciding what information to share with children, and strategies for dealing with scary news that will benefit the whole family
- Discover how much power you have as a parent to decrease the stress and fear in your children’s lives
- Find out how you and your children can learn to balance intellectual understanding with inner guidance, to live with appreciation for the present moment, and to gain strength and wisdom from every experience
- Also included is a quick list of 12 things you can do today to bring more joy into your child’s life
A readable, practical, and uplifting book for parents with children of any age.
Part I: Provide Your Children with a Positive, Nurturing Environment
Chapter One—A Child’s View
Chapter Two—Protecting Young Minds
Chapter Three—Home is a Haven
Chapter Four—The Importance of Friends
Chapter Five—Our Need for Comfort
Part II: Help Your Children Become Joyful and Positive
Chapter Six—Deciding When to Defend
Chapter Seven—Listen to the Heart
Chapter Eight—Live in the Present
Chapter Nine—Beauty, Goodness, and Joy
Chapter Ten—A Loving Heart
Chapter Eleven—We Are Spirit
Chapter Twelve—Experiences Are Teachers
A Quick List
“Being a parent is wonderful, I wouldn’t change it for the world.” Parenting is indeed full of wonder and rewards that can’t be found anywhere else, and in a public opinion poll, 96 percent of the respondents agreed with that statement.* Most parents, even in these uncertain times, wouldn’t give up their responsibilities for less complicated lives. But more than two-thirds of parents who responded to the same poll felt that their parenting job is a lot harder now than it was for their parents.
Almost all parents responded that they worry about negative influences on their children from many outside sources. That concern is so constant and powerful that it overrides other issues, including worries about money or lack of family time. This concern is probably not surprising if you are parent or spend time with parents. It certainly matches my experience, and that of families I spend time with. We are all trying to protect our children and prepare them for the world in a variety of ways. But there is a constant underlying fear that such efforts are inadequate.
Today’s headlines are frightening. Terrorism, war, unemployment, earthquakes, poverty, crime, disease—it seems as if every day brings a new crisis, a new cause for concern, and another reason to fear for the future. The challenge of living with joy and courage when darkness and fear are pressing in from all sides is daunting for almost any adult, especially those who have children.
The daily routines of family life, school, extracurricular activities, and friendships are enough to keep every family occupied and challenged: social skills to learn, academic goals to reach, important values and moral lessons to transmit, and so little time before each child has to become independent and go “out there” where those scary headlines are very real. The pressure on parents can be intense. There is a sense of urgency to get it all done and do it right, to make sure our children survive these difficult times and to prepare them to survive as adults in difficult times to come, when we are not with them.
If you are anything like me and like the parents I know, you hope your children will not merely survive difficult times, but experience a life of joy, optimism, inner contentment, and love for others, and that they are able to help the next generation experience the same. You probably also worry about your ability to give them what they need to make such an experience happen.
The scary news comes from all directions simultaneously. Whether your children are infants, school age, or grown, issues and current events make you concerned for their safety and their future. In any given week, headlines that affect families with children are too many to count. There is no way to deal with each of them directly, but all present one problem we must deal with—fear.
The scary news headlines feed our fears—fear for our children’s safety; for their mental, emotional, and physical health; and for their future. We fear for the state of our schools, for our country, and for the world; and we fear for our own ability to parent in such uncertainty.
Fear can shape our decisions and become the driving force in our lives. The choices we make as parents and the directions our fears take us affect our whole family, whether or not we are aware of it. We can’t ignore the headlines and the issues that confront the world; we can’t pretend they don’t affect our children. But many parents share the same questions: How do I overcome my own anxiety and give my children what they need? Is it possible to live joyfully with everything that is going on in the world today? How can I help my children to be joyful and positive, to live with more love than with more fear?
Yes, it is possible for our children to be joyful and positive in a world full of scary news. However, it is not going to happen without conscious and persistent effort. Presented in this book are twelve specific ways to teach children how to live with joyful appreciation and gain inner strength while growing up in a world full of frightening events and media messages that promote anxiety and fear.
What I propose is really easier than you may think. Teaching children to make decisions based on love instead of on fear is the natural inclination of the heart. Helping them to choose true friends, to act with love for others, and to gain strength and wisdom from experience are goals all parents have expressed in one form or another.
If you are looking for guidance and concrete ways to decrease fear while you increase your family’s experience of love, beauty, peace, and joyful appreciation of each day, you will find help within these pages. Every chapter has practical suggestions and advice for leading your family away from fear and toward light and love in all areas of their lives.
Teaching children that scary news is a part of our everyday existence and can be dealt with while still holding onto joy can be done systematically and lovingly. Raising children in this way requires the same clarity and awareness we use to teach them other important skills. Think of parents teaching about the dangers of fast-moving cars. In my city neighborhood I’ve watched moms and dads deal with the traffic issue in a predictable pattern. First they try to make their children understand that cars share their space and present a danger. Then they place themselves between their children and the street during outside playtime until they feel fairly confident the children will not run into traffic. Years of training and practice crossings occur before parents allow children solo trips across the street, and even then diligent parents are ever watchful. An entirely new phase of learning takes place when as teenagers, children learn to drive and take on the responsibility of watching out for youngsters on the street.
Part One chapters focus on how to create an environment that protects and nurtures children during the vulnerable years of early childhood. Topics cover how to:
- Understand how much negative and harmful emotional influences permeate daily life
- Shield children from the harsher realities of life during their vulnerable developing years
- Create a home that is a haven of peace and safety where joy and optimism can thrive
- Choose true friends who share strength, courage, and optimism
- Comfort ourselves and others when needed
Part Two chapters cover the skills needed to deal with negative influences while maintaining confidence and a positive attitude. Topics cover how to:
- Decide when to take action and defend against a threat
- Balance intellectual assessment with inner guidance
- Live in the present without debilitating worry for the future or regret for the past
- See and appreciate the goodness and beauty that exists around us
- Act with love for others when faced with fear or helplessness
- Nurture a spiritual identity
- Gain strength and wisdom from every experience
These topics are not necessarily steps to take in the order presented. However, there is a logical progression from one step to the next. As you consciously take action in these areas, you will create a life for your family that is joyful and positive. You also take control of negative forces instead of letting them control you. Your children will learn a great deal just from your example and from the environment you create with your efforts, but there are also specific skills you can teach children to prepare them for adult life in an uncertain world.
You may feel confident that you are already using many of these ideas or you may feel you need to work harder on others. You may not need to dramatically change what you are doing now; just raise awareness of your goals and what you are up against. These ideas may be familiar, but have existed only as vague hopes and disjointed pieces that come together by chance instead of by design. All of the topics are on a continuum that reaches far into adulthood; growth and learning doesn’t stop at a particular age. As children reach new developmental milestones, their ability to understand and take action in each of these areas will change, as will your opportunities to teach them. These chapters will help you clarify how to make joy and beauty a more tangible part of your life with your children, and how to guide them into adulthood with more confidence and hope.
How do you start? Your loving attention is the most important piece of the entire picture. No matter the age of your children or the circumstances, a reliable, loving, secure relationship with parents and other adults has proven to be the most influential factor in helping children feel safe and confident when faced with situations that provoke anxiety or fear. My hope is that everything in this book will reinforce that fact and reassure you it is true.
The suggestions in the following chapters will do more for children than just minimize the damage done by frightening world events. We can give our children the skills to cope with the scary news and have a life filled with light, hope, joy, and appreciation.
* State Farm Insurance and Family Friendly Programming Forum, 2002. Public Agenda Online, www.publicagenda.org
Chapter One—A Child’s View
Understand how much negative and harmful emotional influences permeate our daily life.
Some may think that disturbing events are taking place with greater frequency now than at other times in our history, but I’m not convinced. Pick a time and a place and look in the history books. Plagues and war, political upheaval, economic collapse, natural disasters, murders, kidnappings, bigotry and racism, drought and floods, crop failures and famine, accidents and disease, poverty and rebellion appear throughout the history of every continent and nation. I think what is true is that bad news travels faster than ever before, and there are so many ways scary news can attack our daily lives that it can be a tremendous challenge to keep joy alive under the onslaught.
Ask yourself this question: What is the speed of dark?
The Speed of Dark
The speed of dark is how long it takes to turn on the news, find the talk radio station, drive past a billboard, pick up the newspaper, read the headlines while in the checkout line, flip open a magazine at the doctor’s office, greet the neighbor in the driveway, chat with a coworker at the coffee machine. Bad news travels at the speed of dark, and it is very fast. Bad news for an adult is disturbing or saddening, upsetting or alarming. For children, bad news is often simply scary.
In the primitive days of human history, communication was primarily by word of mouth. Urgent news was communicated only as fast and as far as feet could run. Then came signal fires, drums, and horses or other animal transportation as people around the world came up with creative ways to carry news more quickly and over longer distances than a runner could manage. The printing press gave us a big leap forward and was followed by the invention of the telegraph and the telephone. By the early nineteenth century a postal system was in place and the world continued to shrink.
It was in the 1930s, when radio had found its way into almost every U.S. living room that the speed of dark increased beyond anything dreamed of. Radio was the first true mass broadcast media and brought information and entertainment to millions. In 1938 it also was the instrument that brought mass hysteria and unprecedented fear to countless listeners. Orson Welles’s dramatic fictional broadcast,
“War of the Worlds,” testifies to the power of scary news and the speed of dark.
Less than twenty years later, television had replaced radio as the most common source of information and the most popular form of home entertainment. Now scary news was seen live, with all the fear and fascination of experiencing it firsthand.
In only one generation after radio, modern-day communication includes satellites, mobile phones, pagers, fax machines, video, palm-size computers, digital technology, and the Internet. Television is no longer just in living rooms; it’s turned on in doctors’ offices, restaurants, department stores, hair salons, airports, schools, and even automobiles (and not just limousines!). The Internet can be accessed at home, work, cafes, libraries, classrooms, and even through cellular phones. Electronic mail provides instantaneous access to friends and strangers around the world. You can’t avoid the electronic billboards lining streets, radios playing in stores and offices, headlines glaring at you in every checkout aisle, and piles of unsolicited mail filling your mailbox.
Unless you live in extreme isolation, information bombards you constantly. The ability to communicate has changed so dramatically that we no longer have to go out of our way to obtain information; we have to protect our children and ourselves from its constant onslaught.
Many joys and advantages are gleaned from our modern communication that I wouldn’t want to change. We can access information so easily; if you want to know about the weather in China, the rules for a game of cricket, or the words to an song, you can find the answer almost immediately. When my father told me to
“Look it up!” I headed for the set of Encyclopedia Britannica or the huge Webster’s dictionary kept out for those occasions. It is different now. Have you seen your children freeze in the middle of the room, uncertain which way to turn because they have a dozen possible
“look it up” options at their fingertips? I have.
Who would want to give back the warm thrill of hearing a loved one’s voice from across the world? I know what it looks like to gaze down on our planet from an orbiting space station, thanks to communication technology. My children’s best friends moved across the country and they write to one another regularly. But instead of becoming distant pen pals, their friendship has flourished with the help of cell phones, digital video, and e-mail. I homeschool my children with deep gratitude every day for the abundance of resources available to us.
There is another side, however. If we are able to send pictures from a space station, we are able to send pictures from a battlefield; if we use cameras to record birthday parties, we can also use them to record the devastation caused by a tornado or a bomb. News events draw us in and tug at our emotions until they feel personal. Millions felt included in the excitement of Princess Diana’s spectacular royal wedding, and millions felt grief and loss as the news of her death flashed around the world.
Emotions and Information
The emotions we experience are the key here: Every day we are exposed to countless messages every day that evoke emotional responses. During a few hours we may be hit with media messages designed to elicit fear, revulsion, frustration, anger, helplessness, sympathy, concern, sadness, pride, relief. There is humor, too; however, the laughs are often cold and the humor mean spirited.
We are assimilating more than the information that adds to our knowledge and stimulates our intellect. We are also faced with sorting through the startling flood of emotional messages. Our brains react and process constantly, with only a tiny fraction of the deluge having significance to our survival. The bizarre truth is that usually headlines and billboards and talk show topics have no relevance to who we are or how we conduct our lives.
Think of your lifeï¿½your work, marriage, children, friendships, business, physical health, finances, home environment, education, and creative and spiritual activities and interests that are challenging and rewarding. These activities require your attention and fill your heart with more than enough to keep you occupied. Emotion permeates every moment. But the outside world gives you so much more.
In the sensational language of the modern media, every need is a crisis and every concern a threat. Megan Gunnar, Ph.D., professor of child development at the University of Minnesota, explains that stress exists when we perceive a threat and attempt to defend against it. To defend against every contrived crisis as if it were a real threat would result in stress at a debilitating level, so we must sort through all the crises and pick our battles. Fortunately, most adults have the experience and cognitive maturity to figure out what is media hype and what is of serious concern that requires thought and action.
Typical parents coming home from work may see several billboards depicting the dangers of drugs, the violence of domestic abuse, and perhaps a political ad urging a vote to
“Save Our Schools!” The radio news tells of all the latest scandals and terrorist alerts. The headlines tell of war news and another natural disaster. They see it all while processing the day’s events at work and are still able to interpret the information, decide if any of it is a real threat that needs an immediate response, and walk in the door ready to prepare dinner.
Children are bombarded with the same frightening news, emotional messages, and violent realities. But they don’t have the experience, the maturity, the knowledge, or the perspective to understand them and deal with them. Their brains are still developing; they don’t have a worldview that puts information into a useful context. They are in the process of creating their worldview based on their experience.
As our culture has become media rich and media saturated, the lines between fact and fantasy, advertising and propaganda, information and entertainment have become so blurred that they are indistinguishable. Coping with the onslaught of information, emotional manipulation, and grim realities of human behavior in a healthy manner takes a complex array of skills that challenges an intelligent, confident adult. How is a child supposed to discriminate between scary events that are a personal threat and scary events that aren’t?
Living with joy and optimism is a daily struggle in a world where conscious and persistent effort is needed to keep a balanced view of life. The rates of depression and suicide at younger and younger ages would seem to point out that cultivating and keeping a balanced view is a difficult task. The National Institute for Mental Health reports that the age of depression onset is occurring earlier in individuals born in recent decades *(1) and that in 2001 suicide was the third leading cause of death in youths age 15-24. *(2)
We must understand and accept the fact that technology will continue to advance, bringing advantages and experiences we cannot foresee. But technology does not automatically provide greater understanding; it will always have a negative side. The harsher realities of life will continue to invade our personal space, and media influence will become even more pervasive.
To keep a balanced view of life we must be aware of the positive as well as the negative side and understand that the conditions we are trying to balance will constantly be in motion, requiring continual adjustments. Our children will look to us to give them the skills they need to balance the scary realities with the joys that are just as real.
You may have found yourself crawling around on the floor and looking at the environment from your toddler’s height, as suggested by safety experts, to clearly see hazards and make your home child friendly. Now try taking a mental look at your children’s environment and note how many negative, emotional, and potentially scary messages they may encounter regularly. Write your observations down.
If you want to take a detailed inventory of media influences, Dr Dave’s Cyberhood; Making Media Choices that Create a Healthy Electronic Environment for Your Kids, by David Walsh, Ph.D. *(3) , has many useful suggestions and even provides forms to fill in. Here are some general ideas:
How many television or computer screens does your child encounter in a typical day?
This question is different from asking how many hours of TV your child watches. Take note of where the screens are, such as waiting rooms, the mall, the barbershop, friends’ homes, restaurants, and the library.
How many magazine covers and newspaper pictures does your child see?
Think about the checkout lane at the grocery store, waiting rooms, restaurants, your coffee table, and the pile of mail. If your child can read the headlines, count that as a double experience.
Pay close attention to what your children listen to every day.
Take note of when you play the radio in the car or at home. If the TV is on and your children are not watching, can they hear it? How often are your children within hearing of adult or older sibling conversations? What can they hear as they go to sleep? What can they hear at the grocery store, the orthodontist, while riding the bus?
How many billboards, signs, bumper stickers, and advertisements do you notice with content that could be scary or confusing to a child?
Think about the emotional impact of the pictures and the words you pass by on the way to school and in your neighborhood.
Look around your children’s schools and make special note of the messages they are exposed to.
If they attend schools with multiple grade levels, there may be information intended for older children that never is explained or introduced to younger students directly but has an impact nonetheless. Even in preschool and kindergarten classrooms, for some children information intended to educate and prepare may cause anxiety.
* * * * *
Just a few minutes’ reflection will reveal that there are multiple and varied sources of scary news and information that could have emotional impact for children. Much of it exists in the background of our routines, and we adults tune it out. While eating at a pizza parlor one afternoon, my son turned to me and asked if he could turn off the TV that was over the table. I hadn’t noticed it was there! We turned it off and ate in peace.
Unfortunately, many sources of scary news cannot simply be turned off. But looking at the environment with heightened awareness and sensitivity to your children’s viewpoint will help you better understand what they have to deal with daily. Understanding this much will take you closer to seeing how to protect your children and how to help them see the world from a more balanced point of view. Your efforts to keep joy in your children’s lives will be so much more effective and rewarding if you understand more clearly the forces at work against you.
*(1) National Institute of Mental Health, Depression in Children and Adolescents, A Fact sheet for Physicians publication no 00-4744, September 2000 http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/depchildresfact.cfm
*(2) National Institute of Mental Health, Suicide Facts, December 2003 http://www.nimh.nih.gov/research/suifact.cfm
*(3) Simon and Schuster, 2001
“This book is great to read . . . Scary News gives parents reassurance that they have the power to decrease stress and fear in their children’s lives. It offers families a way to invite more love, joy, and hope into their lives and take control of fear.”
—Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Nationally Syndicated Radio Host, author of Stupid Things Parents Do to Mess Up Their Kids
“Lorna Knox is at the center of a revolution—a movement to reclaim innocence and joy for our nation’s children. Her book, Scary News is not only full of practical, down-to-earth advice on maintaining a sense of perspective when it comes to incoming information—it’s also a handbook to ensure that children still see the world as a place that includes them and their dreams. It’s a must-read for every parent and should be shipped to every TV and radio producer in the country to remind them that just because you can do something, or say something . . . doesn’t mean you should—when it comes to the news.”
—John St. Augustine, Host, Power!Talk Radio
“Our children are constantly confronted with news that can produce anxiety and uncertainty. This news may be conveyed in the media or children may experience disturbing events firsthand in their neighborhoods. . . . a sensible, sensitive book filled with practical suggestions that will assist parents not only to deal realistically with the scary news that pervades our society, but also help them to nurture optimism, joy, and resilience in their children.”
—Dr. Robert Brooks, Faculty, Harvard Medical School, Clinical Psychologist, author of The Self-Esteem Teacher, co-author of Raising Resilient Children
“As a Child Development Specialist, parents and teachers often ask me how much their children and students should be told about certain tragedies headlining the news. It’s a complicated question, but Lorna’s book is full of fresh, practical ideas to help guide us. During the Tsunami event, a Kindergarten teacher at my school struggled with how much information to discuss with her class of 5-year-olds. I gave her my copy of Scary News, and after reading it she declared it to be ‘wonderful,’ and asked that our school purchase more copies for our staff and parents. Scary News is a resource book that should be in every parent’s library.”
—Kris Knight, Child Development Specialist, Brookwood Elementary School
“A thoughtful treatment, featuring commonsense recommendations, of how parents can overcome some of the biggest challenges in child-rearing.”
—Michael Medved, Nationally Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host, co-author of Saving Childhood
Holistic Moms Network Book of the Month!
“Lorna Ann Knox’s book guides us to be more mindful as parents by protecting young minds from the barrage of information that they can be exposed to and provides parents with helpful ways to bring joy into the lives of their children (and into their own lives). This is an important book for anyone raising a child in the ‘information age’!”
—Holistic Moms Network
“Scary News, a comprehensive guide for concerned families, gives us a set of useful tools to navigate the unsettling waters of today’s turbulent world.”
—Connie Bowen, author of I Believe in Me
“Scary News is a resource for raising children in a modern age full of terrors. Offering guidelines for teaching children of various ages and stages of development, from early childhood to teens, how to lead balanced lives without being overwhelmed by news of horrible events such as war, natural disasters, terrorist attacks and economic busts. Scary News is not an escapist guide; it stresses the importance of learning information, but balances that with the key of learning to make life choices out of love, not fear. A reassuring and knowledgeable supplement for answering some of the most difficult questions a child can ask.”
—Midwest Book Review
“I like this book—it is practical, nurturing, and encouraging. I enjoy the ease with which it is written. It is like hearing from my mother. There is a comfort in it. I will recommend this to parents and youth workers who are looking for guidance, comfort, and a practical means to create a solid foundation for their children.”
—Rev. Charles W. Hall, Spiritual Director, International Youth and Family Ministries, United Church of Religious Science
“This book shows parents how to help their children avoid fear and hate in reaction to the fearful events that life brings. Knox is idealistic and optimistic, yet practical and grounded in her advice. Her insights will help many parents understand how to give their children strength without making them insensitive.”
—Susan Dermond, Director of Living Wisdom School, Portland, Oregon, author of Calm and Compassionate Children
“The title may be Scary News, but the content is anything but. Lorna Knox writes with joy and compassion about the reality all parents face: our children are bombarded with information from so many sources, much of it horrifying and unnecessary, and they don’t have the ability to process it like we do.
“The suggestions she offers show how to avoid the unnecessary information, deal with the necessary information, and add beauty, joy, and goodness to children’s lives in a way that makes these qualities the real focus of their lives. That’s why this book is so encouraging: the suggestions are simple but effective (for example: add silence to your child’s day), and the focus stays on joy in the lives of ourselves and our children. The goal is for children to learn how to deal with reality in a mature and compassionate way. With so many insightful observations and practical suggestions, this book is a treasure trove for parents who intuitively understand that this world doesn’t really pay enough attention to children’s deepest needs (or to ours either!). My copy is thoroughly underlined. I highly recommend it.”
—M.S., a former child therapist