Newspapers publish and be damned. How should teachers respond to the fall-out for children? - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 24 May 2013

On television news last night and on the front pages of newspapers around the world this morning: a bloodied man wielding a machete just moments after an off-duty soldier was attacked in Woolwich, London.


Newspapers publish and be damned. How should teachers respond to the fall-out for children?

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 24 May 2013


On television news last night and on the front pages of newspapers around the world this morning: a bloodied man wielding a machete just moments after an off-duty soldier was attacked in Woolwich, London.

How can teachers support students who may have been disturbed or even traumatised by what the images show? And is the media right to publish these images at all?

Most of the research on the effect of violent images on young people focuses on movies and video games. But Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis, a forensic and clinical psychologist at the University of Birmingham, told TES that news images of violence such at those published and broadcast in the aftermath of yesterday’s events were more likely to lead to fear rather than aggression, as is sometimes found with fictional violence.

“Evidence suggests that while some individuals are particularly susceptible to an effect, prolonged and repeated exposure to any form of violent images can lead to an impact on many children. It is certainly a public health issue to consider what children are being exposed to, both deliberately and inadvertently,” she said.

“What is more difficult for parents to control is that there is greater exposure now in terms of the images on the fronts of newspapers that children see when they walk around the supermarket or via news streamed on TVs in public places.”

She added that teachers can provide age-appropriate information and context that can make traumatic events easier to understand and clear up misconceptions. For instance, she said that many younger children who viewed the footage of 9/11 had misinterpreted the replayed images to mean that many buildings had collapsed, making the event even more traumatic.

The US National Child Traumatic Stress Network has published guidance for media coverage of traumatic events, which can also help teachers in providing information to reassure students.

It advises highlighting information that enhances trust, such as authorities’ plans to protect the public and restore a sense of safety. Stories about how communities are re-establishing routine and predictability can also help children to recover from traumatic events.

Children may also overestimate their risk of violence, the advice says, but talk with adults can allay their fears by placing them in context. It also advises adults to be aware of traumatic stress reactions: if a child’s stress gets worse rather than better over time, parents or carers may consider referral to a professional.

Certainly, this morning’s newspaper reports and yesterday evening’s television coverage have faced heavy criticism. Andy Ruddock, a senior lecturer in media studies at Monash University in Australia who has researched the media’s portrayal of violence, wrote in The Conversation that members of the media are not neutral observers and that killers are often seeking notoriety.

He points out that Seung-Hui Cho, who carried out the mass murder at Virginia Tech in the US in 2007, paused in the middle of the massacre to film a monologue, which he sent to television network NBC. “One fear is that mediated public murders offer a perverse promise of celebrity. This punctures any sense that instant news simply tells us what the world is like,” Dr Ruddock said.



Questions for discussion or further research:

  • Are young people today exposed to too much violent imagery? If so, who is to blame for this?
  • What is 'empathy' and why is it important?
  • In your opinion, does increased exposure to images of suffering make us more empathetic or does it just make us desensitised?
  • Who do you think should decide whether or not an image is 'too violent' to be published?

Resources for you


Circles of control

  • We all worry; but we do not always have control over what happens. In this resource students categorise various fears according to the level of control they have over them.

Fear

  • Get students to consider what fear is, and how to overcome it.

How Do You Feel

  • Prompt a discussion about different feelings with these pictures and words.

Let's think about feelings

  • Images of people displaying a variety of emotions, with questions for children to read and respond to.


Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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David Beckham, perhaps the world's most recognised sports star, has announced his retirement, saying that he is going out "at the top".

The "Dambusters raid", as it came to be known, was designed to inflict major damage on Hitler's war effort through the precision bombing of crucial dams in Germany's industrial Ruhr region.



In the news archive index