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Understanding Secondary Trauma: How Media Coverage of Violence Affects Mental Health In Teens & Kids

In today's digital age, children and teens have easy access to information and images from around the world. While this can be a valuable learning experience, it can also expose them to distressing and traumatic events. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one such issue that has been widely covered in the media over the last week. This exposure to the details and images of violence can have profound effects on kids and teens, even if they have not directly experienced the attacks and conflict.

When kids witness traumatic events through the news and social media, it can lead to various emotional and psychological responses. These might include:

Anxiety and Fear- kids and teens can develop heightened levels of anxiety and fear, as they may respond as if the violence is an immediate threat to them and their safety.

Desensitization- continuous exposure to violence can desensitize kids, making them less empathetic towards the suffering of others.

Nightmares and Sleep Problems- traumatic images and stories can show up in a child's dreams, leading to sleep disturbances.

Behavioral Changes- trauma may manifest in changes in behavior, such as increased aggression, withdrawal, or acting out.

Academic Performance Changes- a youth’s ability to focus and learn can be negatively affected by the emotional toll of witnessing distressing and traumatic media.

As a parent or caregiver, it’s helpful to be aware of the potential impact media can have on your child’s wellbeing and take steps to provide support.

Here are some ways you can help support your child:

Limit Exposure- Monitor the content your child and teen are exposed to and limit their screen time when necessary.

Provide Context- explain events in an age-appropriate manner, helping them understand the broader context and reasons behind the attacks and conflict. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and ask questions.

Promote Healthy Coping- teach your child healthy ways to cope with stress, such as relaxation techniques and engaging in creative activities.

Encourage Compassion- foster empathy by engaging in activities that promote understanding and compassion towards others.

Remember that each child is unique, and their responses to traumatic information and violence in the media can vary. It is important parents and caregivers remain engaged and available to support their children and teens through these challenging times.

Written By: Jennifer Wilmoth, LMFT

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