Every day, children and toddlers face a risk of trauma in their dining and living rooms, and in vehicles going to and from school, daycare and play dates. It comes from a source that can’t be felt but it can be seen and heard. Every hour on the hour.
I’m talking about radio and TV newscasts that consistently serve up a diet of murder, mayhem and grue. Day in and day out, the diet is mainly ‘bad news‘, carefully scripted and read aloud by authoritarian newscasters, designed to hook our attention.
I’m wishing to do something about this and so I’m launching Choose News, an advocacy project to raise awareness of the health impacts of ‘bad news’ on children <7 years of age, and to urge Canadian broadcasters to change the way they format and deliver news.
For children under 7 years, whose neural development is growing yet incomplete, they can’t fathom the complexity and nuances of the news, yet they absorb it. Over time, a steady diet of bad news sensationalizing violence can deeply interrupt a growing child’s sensibilities and emotional and congnitive functioning. Worse yet, it can produce anxieties and depression and initiate learning disabilities.
How did this happen?
In the case of unrelenting ‘bad news’ newscasts, violence guidelines exist for broadcasters to follow, created in 1993. But these guidelines are voluntary and they don’t reflect insights and sensitivities toward the youngest segment of their audience – children and toddlers. Perhaps more important, mainstream broadcasters have honed a business model that sensationalizes violence to earn more money. That children may or are being harmed by this business model seems of little consequence to broadcasters at this time.
This isn’t appropriate. Children and todlers who have neither the developmental capacity to discern the implications of ‘bad news’ nor the means to control newscast(s), shouldn’t have to risk emotional impairment every time their parents flick on the radio or TV to track news, weather, sports and traffic updates. In fact it should be the constitutional right of families to listen or watch newscasts without such risk.
It’s time for public and private broadcasters to change their business model that sensationalizes violence and puts our children at risk. Our society protects kids at rinks, ski hills and skate parks, and from noxious substances like cigarette smoke. Now it’s time to do the same for children in their own homes and vehicles.
I’m going to concentrate my efforts on this project for the forseeable future, and I hope you will consider joining with me. Together we can turn bad news into good news for our children.
And stay tuned for Choose News updates.