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Helping your child during the current situation in the Middle East

By Dr Danielle Einstein and Dr Judith Locke (Clinical Psychologists)

In a time when your child may be exposed to horrific images of terrorist activities, how can you reduce the risk? Here are some short tips for parents.


Talking to your child and managing their social media

Recently, the situation peaked with terrorists releasing video footage on social media too horrific for words. Thus, if your child is on social media, they are likely to be exposed to this footage.


To overcome this, parents need to set up boundaries. Protect them from the anxiety and distress elicited by images and heartbreaking stories.


If they are young. Don’t be afraid to turn off their phone or tablet now. This is sensible. You could say that there is some awful stuff on social media right now and you want to protect them. Only say this if you know that it will not ignite curiosity in them. Remember you are the parent; you can take technology off them. Instead, if you have the time, do something fun as a family, like playing a board game or taking a walk to get everyone an ice-cream.

For older children. Tell them not to watch, but be aware that the older they are, the more access and choice they have. Ideally, spend time as a family. If you all want to be up to date and are all of the right age, then watch the news on TV, as networks are likely to be a bit more sensible in their choice of footage. Then, when the story is over, switch over to something different. Now is not the time for 24-hour news footage, it will continue to bring heightened emotion, as the situation is yet to be resolved. Comedies and old favourites are good distractions.


Keep checking in with them. Keep checking in with yourself.


What if your child wants to view the footage

Kids are curious and, often, so are adults. We can’t blame anyone for their curiosity – it’s important to stay up to date with world events. But there are dangerous ways of doing that. WhatsApp is a medium with no checks due to the encrypted messages that are shared. Therefore, there is even more onus on the sharer to filter videos.


Thus, make sure that your child doesn’t share the images in a manner that distresses others. If your child is of the right age, you might explain that caring people do not do things that harm others, such as sharing images or saying inflammatory or extremely emotional things. This could be a teachable moment for your child.


Managing your own wellbeing

When emotions are high, news is unfolding and views are discrepant, the potential for social media to ignite arguments and cause hysteria must be taken seriously. Thus if you are likely to become upset at some people’s view, then turn off social media. Be disciplined in this, don’t make yourself feel worse. Switching off is self-care, but it doesn’t mean you don’t care.

Instead, seek the company of others who you trust and love. You can check on each other to see how you are both reacting and can adjust responses to suit each other. If you are only doing this sharing and communication online, then there is no such protection. Even just making a phone call is going to help you more than scrolling social media.


Many people’s need for connection in a time of turbulence is so urgent, it might become somewhat second nature. Sometimes we want to reach out to many others on WhatsApp to tell them of our distress in a manner that invites them in, and, we agree, that can be helpful. But sometimes it’s not.


Although we think that group conversation always makes everyone feel better and more connected, keep in mind that others may not feel the same or may not want to be reminded. Thus, now is the time to communicate our strong emotional needs directly with people, and check in with one person at a time. This will ensure that group dynamics don’t take over and nobody is trying to cater to everyone’s varying emotions and reactions in a single conversation. This will keep the tone of the group, as a whole, calm and supportive. You might also teach your children how to be similarly considerate when in group conversation.


If you have a particular sensitivity to the situation

If you are personally involved, then witnessing the trauma as it unfolds will make it very difficult to function. Just as you start to adjust to the horrific piece of information that has come in, the next piece arrives.


Take care of yourself now. Again, the best solution to this is to switch off the source of endless bits of news, and seek the support of loved ones, caring others, or support lines.


©Dr Judith Locke and Dr Danielle Einstein


Dr Danielle Einstein, is an Adjunct Fellow at Macquarie University, specialising in anxiety and technology use. She is an expert featuring in the new Australian documentary, Disconnect Me. Her research on social media use shows why it is associated with an increase in anxiety for some students and not others.


Dr Judith Locke is a clinical psychologist and the author of parenting books, The Bonsai Child and The Bonsai Student. The Bonsai Child is available in Mandarin. You can also follow her Facebook page Confident and Capable.


Both Judith and Danielle deliver sessions for parent, teachers, and students in schools across Australia.

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