Listen: Max Schneider chats to Clare Bruce
If you’re anywhere a TV or a radio right now, it’s near impossible to escape news of the current bushfire crisis. While we all need to stay informed and safe, when is too much bad news, bad for us?
Trauma counsellor Max Schneider from the Australian Institute of Family Counselling (AIFC), says there is such a thing as too much bad news, and he says it’s important to put boundaries on our news watching – both for ourselves, and in particular, for children.
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Schneider says it’s not unusual for people to become obsessed with checking all the latest news, and looking out for graphic, upsetting content. We think we’re “staying in touch”, but if we overdo it, we can do ourselves damage.
“You can develop symptoms that mimic post-trauma, just by watching traumatic news and listening to it over and over again.”
“The research says that being exposed [to traumatic events] not directly but by association, can have really detrimental psychological effects,” he said. “It’s something to be really aware of – that you can develop symptoms that mimic post-trauma, just by watching it and listening to it over and over again.”
He said the media’s tendency to over-dramatise the news can make us feel that there is nothing good left in the world – something we need to guard against.
“It’s just really wise to protect our minds and our spirit,” he said. “Watch what you need to watch and be aware and alert about what’s going on but don’t overdo it – and certainly protect children and young adults from over-consuming it.”
Be Aware of What Your Kids Are Watching
Be careful about letting young children see distressing news reports that they may not be old enough to understand: “If they’re really young, they’re not prepared cognitively to be exposed to that sort of material,” Schneider says.
His advice is to catch up on the news when really little kids aren’t around. And if your children or teens are consuming the news, pay attention to how it affects them.
“Children can regress or go backwards developmentally if they are exposed to too much traumatic media,” he said. “Don’t be surprised if kids have been exposed to what’s going on, and they start to act a little younger than what you’d expect, or have bad dreams.”
Answering Questions About Suffering
Parents may also need, as much as they feel able, to answer the big questions kids ask – for example questions about God, and suffering, says Max.
“Our kids have often asked us ‘Why is this happening Dad?’ or ‘Why is this going on Mum?’, so you’ve got to be prepared to answer some of those,” he said.
“A friend sent me a great scripture from 2 Corinthians – where Paul talks about God who is suffering with us, and is in our suffering – but also that we can be comforted in Christ. God both suffers, and comforts us.
“That to me is the key – it’s helping kids understand that we don’t often know or understand why things happen… but that God sees us in our distress, he suffers with us and He is an ever-present help, and hope in times of trouble.”
* The Australian Institute of Family Counselling is a Christian counselling training organisation, offering accredited qualifications and professional development short courses that integrate psychology, theology and spirituality. They are currently preparing a professional development short course on trauma and disaster recovery, from a Christian perspective – to help train those who help others. Contact them for expressions of interest.