Thursday, July 18, 2013

Nightly News

It's the third or fourth ninety-something-degree day in a row this morning, so I quit trying to do anything productive (press releases, piano concert promotion, articles due, email) and declare that we're going to the pool. On the way there, Annie, per usual, is both looking at a library book and chatting up a storm.

" . . . And then in book 22 of Cam Jansen, the teacher gets arrested!"

Me: "Hmmm."

Annie: "But then I bet they find out that someone else is the thief."

Me: "Mmmmm-hmmmmmm."

Annie: "Because a teacher wouldn't ever do anything bad like that, right?"

Me, stalling: "Hmmm?"

Annie: "RIGHT?"

Me, brightly: "Not any teacher that I've ever known!"


When Jason and I were gone last month, I left behind a four-page, single-spaced Microsoft Word document to instruct the grandparents on how to live our life at our house. It included exciting details such as how much to feed the cats, library card pin numbers, pediatrician phone numbers, when to put out the trash, how to get to tennis camp, how to leave the washing machine door ajar so as to avoid mildew on the seal, and where to find spare toilet paper (in the "Costco pantry" in the basement, obviously). It also included a paragraph that went something like:

"The girls may watch cartoons on PBS or Nick Jr. on demand, usually for no more than an hour at a time. They both know how to get to math and typing games on the computer, but no computers in bedrooms. Please don't have the news on while they're awake or around; we don't watch the news around them."

My parents came over for the afternoon a week or so before we were scheduled to leave, so they could look over the instructions and get familiar with the various machines and procedures, and my mom stopped abruptly when she read this section of the document.

"You don't let them see the news?" she asked.

"Nope. Not really," I said.

"Well, why not?" she said.

"Well, we actually don't watch it, anyway - never really have - and there's a lot of stuff on there that we don't especially want to explain to them yet, at ages six and eight," I said.

My mom made a face. "Well, they have to learn about the world eventually," she said, and it was clear that she disagreed with our policy.

The reason I gave her is partially true: Jason and I really don't watch the news, nightly, cable, morning or otherwise. I remember watching CNN in college during the Clinton scandal, and I actually like to catch the occasional "Meet the Press" or newsy roundtable on the treadmill from time to time, but most news these days seems like sensationalistic fear-mongering and incomplete sound-bytes. It raises my anxiety level and makes me feel helpless and depressed, and we don't turn it on. So our television-news-free house would probably be television-news-free even if we were also child-free.

I do, however, consume news. I read it online, and I listen to it on NPR. I like the longer, nuanced, in-depth perspectives that those formats provide, and sometimes I'll even take the time to read the comments on an article (though never, ever on MLive, where the commenters make you lose your faith in humanity), because they can poke holes in or confirm the conclusion of an article. And even when I do those things, I still shield the kids from it. I minimize the website when they come in the room. I turn off NPR when they're in the car on the way to the pool, asking their mostly-innocent questions about teachers and morality.

Why? I suppose I want to tell them the truth ("No teacher I've ever known!") but not the whole truth ("Some teachers would."). I suppose I want them to just BE KIDS for a bit longer, to let them make fairy houses and read mysteries and cannonball into the pool without letting them worry about a Florida teenager shot by a neighborhood watch patrol, without explaining bankruptcy or celebrity drug use or armed robbery or protests in Egypt.

Later, after we returned from our trip, I surveyed a few friends: Did they let their kids watch the news? The answer, resoundingly, was no. They didn't. Why, asked one mom, give them information that they can't do anything about? Why, asked another, fuel an anxiety-prone child by providing video footage of real-life nightmares? I decidedly don't want to shelter my girls from the reality of the world. But I don't want to push them too quickly into it, either, and I don't think I'm alone.

I can't remember, exactly, when I learned about the world and all the events on the nightly news. Based on my mom's reaction, I think I'm correct in remembering that the 6:00 news was always on in our living room after dinner, though I don't have any concrete memories of it beyond being shushed during the weather report. I remember watching The Challenger explode at takeoff in third or fourth grade, and then I remember watching the first Gulf War begin at some point during middle school. Between those two events, it's static, nothing.

Rationally, I know that there's a time, just around the proverbial corner, when Annie - and, later, Jemma - will deserve to know what's happening, and will need my help in interpreting it all. I just can't quite find the conviction that it needs to happen yet. Maybe next year, I think as we pull into the pool parking lot. Or the next.


  1. Great topic, well written as always. We take the same approach, preferring to err on the side of too little information as opposed to too much... at least for now.

  2. I've written a similar four-paged-single-spaced document when leaving Anna with grandparents, and it ALWAYS requests that the news not be on. We are the same...we don't watch it at home (I am too anxious), and I don't see any reason to make an already anxious child more worried, especially at five years old. Anyway, great post.

  3. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in this. I do wonder, though: what is the moderate, gradual approach to letting the "real world" in? It doesn't seem like watching the news for five minutes a night instead of thirty will work . . .