By Priscilla J. Dunstan, McClatchy-Tribune
Our televisions have carried some very powerful images these past few weeks including a spectacular royal wedding and the dramatic and violent demise of a national enemy. It is natural for children to be confused by reality and fictional TV, and thus important to educate them about the difference. Children will often combine information they get from the media with their own experience, incorporate it into their play. Observing this play will allow us as parents to be aware of issues that may come up for our children.
Tactile children will tend to play out what they see on the TV. After this past week of news, I would expect lots of dress-up games of weddings and princesses, and soldiers and war. Tactile children can tend to be very physical in their play, so you will need to watch that the games don’t get too vigorous. Taking note of how and what they are playing will give you insight to their thinking and concerns, as well as what moral issues may need to be addressed. The best way to teach them about these issues is by playing with them, and subtly introducing the issues with active play.
Auditory children will be listening into everything being said, by the family at home, you on the telephone to a friend, children on the playground, or on radio or TV. It is very important that your auditory child be allowed to ask you about the events he’s heard discussed.
Be patient and try to answer objectively and unemotionally — particularly when some the questions seem antagonistic or obvious. These events can be confusing for an auditory child, who will recognize that they are hearing conflicting rules. On the one hand, killing is bad, but people are celebrating the death of a person far away; fairy tales aren’t real, but the recent royal wedding included a real prince. Your child is using the many questions they ask to try to understand our complicated rules and social structure.
Visual children will be very aware of the images on the TV screen and magazines. The videos of people cheering in NYC over bin Laden’s death will seem inconsistent with the images usually associated with such an event. The visual child tends to be exact in her daily approach to life, so she may be worried that all the other rules of her life will be reversed, too. The child’s confusion may emerge in pictures they draw or defiant behavior that seems to test the boundaries at home. The Royal wedding will bring out their natural curiosity about image, so expect them to want to wear princess dresses to preschool.
Taste and smell children will respond to big media events in unusual ways. It will be difficult for the child to suppress his empathetic side, and so he may get over-focused on a perceived loss, unable to see the whole picture.
I know a taste and smell child who became overly upset when she learned that one of the horses in the royal wedding procession threw its rider and ran away. The taste and smell child has the anxious understanding that what can happen to others, can happen to her too. Talk to your child about this acknowledge the concern, but emphasize that they are safe, and events on TV don’t happen to most people. Your child probably won’t get thrown from a runaway horse, and he probably won’t grow up to be a prince either!
The media has an impact on our children, even when we try to contain it. It’s important to explain situations to your children as they come up, lest they hear it from an ignorant source. Keep the explanations brief, and age appropriate, but be prepared to address the issues directly.
Priscilla J. Dunstan is a child and parenting behavior expert and consultant and the author of “Child Sense.” Learn more about Priscilla and her parenting discoveries at www.childsense.com.