On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Guest Host: Diane Vogel
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, children who were very young, or not born yet at the time of the attacks, are likely to be exposed to footage of the event for the first time. And recent natural disasters are enough to make anyone anxious, especially kids. We’ll learn how to handle questions about complicated issues and find age-appropriate news resources for children.
- Tracy Grant KidsPost Editor; The Washington Post
- Claudia Heitler Founder; Here There Everywhere - News for Kids
- Joseph Viola Educational Psychologist, St. Albans School; professor, The George Washington University Professional Psychology Program
MS. DIANE VOGELFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Diane Vogel sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, an earthquake no one expected, wall to wall coverage of Hurricane Irene, the 10th anniversary of terrorist attacks that took the lives of thousands. The kids in your life probably have all kinds of questions about the stories making headlines. If you've ever spent an hour with a four-year-old, you know that kids can be inquisitive to the extreme even on the slowest news day. And their questions can be tough for even the most knowledgeable adults to answer.
MS. DIANE VOGELIs it better to tell them something, everything, nothing to shelter them? As grown-ups, we walk a fine line between helping the kids in our lives understand the world we live in and protecting them from topics that they're simply too young to understand. With me today to talk about how to process the news and help your kids process the news, how to look at what your life -- how your life was shaped by the news that you saw, joining me to help us have this conversation today are Tracy Grant. She edits the KidsPost section of the Washington Post. Tracy, thanks for being here.
MS. TRACY GRANTGreat to be here.
VOGELAlso in studio with me is Joe Viola. Joe Viola is the school psychologist at St. Albans School here in D.C. and a professor at the George Washington University Professional Psychology Program. Thanks for being here, Joe.
MR. JOSEPH VIOLAThank you, Diane.
VOGELAnd joining us from the Argo's Studios in New York City is Claudia Heitler. Claudia is the founder of a website called Here, There, Everywhere - News for Kids. So, I thought I would start with you, Tracy. When -- since we have the anniversary of 9/11 coming up and we're not going to spend, I promise, we're not going to spend this whole time talking about 9/11. But you had five-year-old twins at the time when 9/11 happened.
VOGELDo you remember what, if anything, you told them about it? And what was the first -- and if it wasn't at the time, when was the first time you started talking to them about it?
GRANTWell, it's stunning, my recollections of kindergarteners and they called me after they had been picked up from school, schools were all dismissed. They were picked up from school. I was, at the time, running the Post newsroom Web operation. So to say I was a little busy at work. But I was a working mom and I was worried about them. They called and Christopher said to me, mommy, mommy, we heard that there were planes that went into some buildings. Did planes go into your building?
GRANTAnd my immediate reaction was I need to comfort this child and tell him that I am fine. And when I did that, he said, oh, we sort of thought if a plane went into your building you could come home early from work. And I think that's a really important moment because kids see the world differently than we do.
GRANTAnd they don't have the experiences. They are, by nature, incredibly self-centered. They need to be. That's not an indictment. But they see it from what does this mean to me. And I think when we talk to kids about this, any big event, we have to remember to keep it very personal. They were 12 or 13 when we went down to the museum right after President Obama was elected. We wanted to see the front pages. And we went into the little studio that they have there that shows the constant coverage of 9/11.
GRANTAnd there are silver-plated tissue boxes at the entrance. And as we went in, Andrew said to me, why are there tissues? And I said, well, let's just go in. And we sat for maybe 10 or 15 minutes. They had never seen the live coverage. They didn't realize that it had played out live on television. And after about 10 or 15 minutes, they said we're ready to go now. But they knew why the tissue boxes were there. So...
VOGELThat's a great book-ended story of how they learned. And it seems to me, from my non-parent position, that you seem to have done a really good job on both ends of it. But I'm going to ask the expert. Joe, you're a school psychologist and I would ask, how -- I imagine that that's a good reaction. But how would you advice reacting in a situation like that? In fact, the kids might have learned a lot about 9/11 from the wrong sources.
VOGELThey might have heard it from their friends at school or they might have seen it on TV when they were waiting to be picked up at a roller rink or somewhere else. When see the first time the images on TV, what do you do?
VIOLAMm-hmm. Yeah, it's a good question. Two things sort of resonated with me listening to Tracy. The first was how great of an example it was of just how charming and self-centered young kids can be. I thought it captured perfectly, exactly that sort of ego that young kids have that we love. It's sort of unedited. The second thing that stood out for me was how quick she was to reassure her kids that she was fine.
VIOLAAnd one of the things that I think happens sometimes when kids are getting information from other sources is that this fear, uncertainty will stick with them and they'll ask you the same questions over and over again as a pole for you to reassure them that things are okay. So, for me, it was sort of this great example of how a parent should handle that situation, especially for somebody that's five, you said?
GRANTYeah, they were five.
VIOLASo, this idea of reassuring them right away -- and also, letting them tell you what they know about it. You know, I think sometimes when we think about how to talk to kids about these difficult issues, we need to stop before we do so and just hear them. And let them tell you what they're hearing from other places, and let them tell you what they're feeling and before you sort of swoop in and tell them.
VOGELAnd I think that makes a lot of sense. I'm guessing that Claudia Heitler hears what you're saying and agrees. I know, Claudia, you were a producer for "The Today Show" when...
MS. CLAUDIA HEITLERAh, yes.
VOGEL...yeah, when 9/11 happened. At that time, it's my understanding, you didn't have kids.
HEITLERThat's right, I didn't have kids at the time.
VOGELAnd when you left your producing job at "The Today Show" to raise your kids, you found yourself using skills similar to your news coverage for how you started to talk to your kids about your day. Tell us a bit about the bathtub report.
HEITLERWell, part of the bathtub report was, you know, I had a captive audience, for starters. They couldn't run away. But basically, it was also an excuse for me to start getting more connected with the world. I think, you know, it's amazing to me as a parent and as someone who worked in news and was surrounded by it and consumed by it all the time that, you know, even I went for weeks without reading a newspaper or seeing the news sometimes. And I'm ashamed to admit that but just, you know, you get really wrapped up in parenting.
HEITLERAnd so, what I used to do is sit in the bathroom while they were taking a bath and I would start flipping through The New York Times or USAToday or The Washington Post online or some other news websites. And what was amazing to me is that it would be so great to tell them about some of the great stories that happened in the world. I mean, there really are just some amazing people and amazing ideas, and amazing discoveries.
HEITLERBut some days I just found that I would flip through the paper and my kids would say, well, so what's going on in the world today? And I'd be like, nothing. Well, the world's a little scary today, guys, we're just going to skip it.
VOGELHow did they fill those pages of paper with no news?
HEITLERYeah. And then sometimes when I would find a story, it would be, you know, at such a level that I would try to find the words to say it and then, you know, it just took a lot of effort. So that's sort of what the website started as was just to say, okay, rather than spending, you know, 45 minutes until my kids are shriveled up like prunes and some days not coming away with anything. You know, I would just take some time and take a couple stories and tell them what's interesting about what's going on and then move from there.
VOGELYou're listening to the voice of Claudia Heitler. She is the founder of the website Here, There, Everywhere - News for Kids. You'll find a link to that at our website, kojoshow.org. She's joining us from the studios of the Argo Network in New York. In studio with me is Tracy Grant, the editor of the KidsPost section at The Washington Post. You'll find links to that on our website as well.
VOGELAnd also Joe Viola. He's the school psychologist at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. and a professor at George Washington University Professional Psychology Program. We're interested in knowing what you've been telling your kids about what's in the news. Is there a story that's been stumping you? How do you tell -- I know I had friends who were parents of elementary school children when the Clinton impeachment trial went on.
VOGELWe discussed a lot how to have that conversation or whether to have it. What's the story that's stumping you? Have your children expressed curiosity about the news? Do you have some recommendations for new parents? Call us and tell us your story at 1-800-433-8850, 1-800-433-8850 or get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending a tweet to @kojoshow.
VOGELWe were just talking, Joe, about how kids interpret the news. And I realized that or how they are self-centered. I realized that kids, when they see something on the news, don't necessarily know that it's not happening right now. Right? They process things somewhat differently. So, for a parent with a kid first starting to get interested in the news, are there perspective issues we should talk about?
VIOLAI think so, yeah. I mean, for me, this topic in a lot of ways is all about a child's ability to understand the perspective of another and understand time and distance. I know some young children when they see things on the news, if they see it again they feel like it's happening again, right? So, I think that the first thing for me that comes to mind is sort of thinking about some of the transitions in perspective taking that happens from three to five, six to ten, and then middle and high school age kids.
VIOLABut, yes, I think that from those early years you need to remember that kids will see things through their own eyes in this very sort of self-absorbed way that again is more charming than anything else. But it's because they don't yet have the capacity to understand the perspective of another. And that transition is a slow one.
VIOLAAnd it takes a lot of time. And, you know, I'm sure that Tracy could sort of highlight for us the different ways that she's been able to speak to her kids about these issues over time. From five to ten to fifteen, taking something of a listening approach, hearing them out, maybe thinking creatively and problem solving, a way to stay safe here and now, right? And to focus on that. And thinking more sort of abstractly about, you know, war or relationships, to money in the wake of a financial crisis. You know, so there is an evolution in terms of how kids think and see these issues.
VOGELAnd, Tracy, yeah, I'd love to hear your ideas about that evolution. I understand that KidsPost is mostly aimed at kids about 7 to 12 or so. But certainly younger folks read it and some older ones. I know I read it most days.
VIOLAYeah, I know.
GRANTThank you. Right. But our core audience is seven to twelve. And I think Joe makes a really good point. We did a piece on the anniversary of the Brown versus Board ruling because we thought that most kids in our demographic could understand, sort of, the inherent issue of fairness and unfairness. The same reporter who did that proposed doing a Roe versus Wade anniversary story.
GRANTAnd I, like, couldn't run away fast enough. And it's not because we don't want to tackle difficult issues. I think there are two issues with something like that. One, even if, like, as in kid's posts, you're writing for kids, you do have a partnership with the parent. And you don't want to drop the -- a bombshell on the breakfast table on Tuesday morning.
GRANTGee, Mommy, what's this about killing babies? But to Joe's point, which I think is a really good one, to most kids in our demographic, they wouldn't be able to understand the complexity of the issue of choice and -- involved in abortion. To most eight to 10 year olds, it would be about killing babies, I don't think that's a bad thing. I think, that is an appropriate -- an age appropriate feeling. And so I think you do have to be careful -- we all love to think that our children are brilliant and sophisticated, we don't want to put too much on their plate.
GRANTAnd I think, when you're explaining the news to them, if you can't find a teachable moment beyond -- the world's really scary sometimes and sometimes it's completely random, I think you can just, sort of, ignore that unless they're really clamoring to know about something. So, for example, we chose to ignore the shootings in Oslo. And, I think, as a parent and as a editor, you need to edit the world for your kids.
VIOLAYou know, I was just going to say, quickly...
VIOLA...I'm sorry, one...
VIOLA...just quickly, Claudia, the EM, for me, which just came up was this idea of really knowing your child.
VIOLARight, because they are some five year olds that are going on 10 and 11.
VIOLAAnd there are some five year olds that are going back to four. So...
VOGELAnd Claudia, you say...
HEITLERWell, and -- and...
VOGEL...trust is important, hat the parent can trust you as the website provider or the KidsPost. How do you make those decisions?
HEITLERWell, I think, part of it is, is that, you know, I don't post every day. And part of it is, is that it's not about having as much news as possible and it's not about conveying information. It's about conveying, you know, the human world and the narrative that goes with that. And I, too, chose to not post about Norway. And -- for a number reasons and it's so complex. And, you know, I'm not the gatekeeper for the story. And so if a parent would like to discuss it with their child, then certainly, I'm not saying that they should or they shouldn't.
HEITLERI just think that, you know, as Tracy was saying, I don’t want to be the one to introduce that to a child, if they're not ready for it. And because I'm not writing it for just my children anymore, you know, I think that I need to be cognizant of that. We had also -- I had also that -- early that week, decided to do the story about Somalia and the hunger crisis there. And I think, you know, you can only bring so much bad news and tragedy, you know, to a week, I think.
HEITLERAnd I think that the difference, for me, between the two stories, for example, was that one, to me, the story in Norway was extremely violent and I was worried that it would leave children feeling helpless, like, they could be victims, sort of, anywhere at any time. And I wasn't sure that that's a message that I could get around. But in the instance of Somalia, which is just heartbreaking, you know -- and just a tragedy of epic proportions, there is a situation there where, I think, children can help, you know, there is something that you can try to do.
HEITLERAnd also, kids, I find, are so solution oriented. I mean, immediately the comments came in, why can't they just drop the food with the helicopter? Why can't they build a big huge pipeline and just pipe in the water, you know. And I think that these are -- I think that we need to listen to children. We need to give them credit for wanting to know about what's going on in the world and we need to listen to them.
HEITLERI mean, these are kids who are going to come up with innovations in the future and I think we need to not just, sort of, brush them aside as silly little kids and, you know, maybe you can't build a pipeline because it's so expensive and such a huge project and there's issues with, you know, corruption and whatnot. But, I think, that, you know, if you keep plugging away at these things, kids will come up with, you know, the solutions that we need in the venture.
HEITLERAnd just very quickly to touch on what Joe and Tracy said, too. I agree that kids are charmingly self-centered. And that's actually part of the reason why I named the website Here There Everywhere. And it really is to give them a sense of place because the news for kids, to me, is not about, you know, time and being on the news cycle, it's about understanding that you're in the world, but you have a place in the larger world. And that, you know, knowing about what's going on in news is a way to connect with that.
VOGELTerrific. The voice you're listening to is Claudia Heitler. She's the founder of Here There and Everywhere: News for Kids, a website. You have also been listening to Tracy Grant, the editor of the KidsPost section of the Washington Post. And Joe Viola, the school psychologist at St. Albans School in Washington and a professor with the George Washington University, professional psychology program.
VOGELWe invite you to join this conversation. What was the first news story that you remember following? Did something shape your psyche? We'll ask that question after this. Give us a call to join the conversation, 1-800-433-8850 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Diane Vogel, sitting in for Kojo on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
VOGELWelcome back, I'm Diane Vogel, managing producer of "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," sitting in today for Kojo. We're talking about how kids process the news, how the news sort of effects your psyche at different ages and also what you as the, quote-unquote, "responsible adult" in the lives of other children can do when they ask you some of the tough questions. Please join our conversation at 1-800-433-8850 or e-mail us at email@example.com.
VOGELIn studio with us is Tracy Grant, the editor of the KidsPost section at the Washington Post, Joe Viola, the school psychologist at St. Albans School. And joining us from New York in the Argo studios are Claudia Heitler, the founder of the website, Here There and -- Here There Everywhere: News for Kids. We have a ton of calls coming in so I'm going to get right to the conversation with Jennifer. Jennifer, you're in Fredrick, Md., go ahead.
JENNIFERHi there. Yes, well, there were two experiences I had as a child. The first one, I'll just -- is very briefly, but, of course, any child thinking of drinking Kool-Aid, at least at my age, I was probably about seven, may remember the Reverend...
JENNIFER...Jim Jones and Guyana. And I just saw the cover of a Time or Newsweek magazine and then proceeded to go through all of the pictures. And without going into details, that one certainly left an impression. I did not drink Kool-Aid for a while. But the one that really got me was, of course, let's say, you know, early '80s, the big, you know, nuclear weapons' ramp up. And it wasn't so much that news, but it triggered in my mind a memory of when I was 10, in school, they showed the movie reels of the effects of nuclear weapons, you know, showing all of the tests.
JENNIFERI don't know why they would show this to kids at that age. The ones where, you know, everything is burned, you know, bodies are singed, turned in -- I don’t want to get too graphic for violence. But I think if you know anything about that -- and for, you know, it wasn't like in the 1950s where they used, you know, kids used to have to have drills, hiding underneath...
JENNIFER…the desk, but for a year, I just had these nightmares about, you know, atomic bombs going to kill us. And it was at the same time where they were ramping up about black holes so I always thought that if the bomb wasn't going to kill us, I needed to stay awake and make sure the earth wasn't getting sucked into (unintelligible) ...
JENNIFERAnd I just wish that, I was -- I just wish that, you know, if I had had someone --I did go to boarding school, if I had had someone to talk to me about it and be, like, no, it's okay. I mean, you never really know it's okay. I think that was a lot of the fear...
JENNIFER...of the arms race.
VOGELWell, Jennifer, that's really interesting, especially because you said two things that really struck me but the boarding school was one. So there was no parent around, necessary to catch that this was bothering you. But you also said a lot of times these memories are buried, like, you don't remember it until something much later triggers it. As a school psychologist, Joe, is that common and what, when parents say to the kids, what happened in school today, and the kids are going, nothing, how do you know that all this turmoil is going on inside?
VIOLAYeah, I mean, I think what Jennifer describes is something that happens fairly regularly with people who are exposed to something that arouses fear in them. What I would say, first of all, is that I too remember my own, sort of, scary videos and scary moments. And I think one of the things that's changed, just in terms of how we communicate with younger people, is that, often times now that fear, which is still used, is coupled with education.
VIOLARight. So even if you think of, you know, issues related to substance abuse or world issues, social issues, usually something that elicits fear is usually coupled with some narrative and education response to help somebody better understand, sort of, the boundaries of that fear. But more specifically to your point, I would say that, yeah, there are things that you want to look for as a parent or as a caregiver.
VIOLASomebody that spends a lot of time with helping kids, in terms of how they're responding, their level of hyper vigilance to issues in school or topics that come up, as a parent, you know, paying special attention to how your children are sleeping, how much assurance are they pulling for, right? Are they taking those fear responses with them outside of the home? You know, those are the things that, for me, would warrant reaching out to somebody and talking to somebody about it.
VOGELNow, I want to go back to the phones one more time. Is there -- I'm going right now to Susan in Rockville, Md. Susan, you're on the air.
SUSANHi, how are you?
VOGELJust fine, go ahead, Susan.
SUSANI wanted to mention, again -- also a memory from childhood. I remember in fifth grade, it was a really big deal that Christa McAuliffe was going up in the space shuttle. And...
VOGELFor those who don't recognize the name, that's the teacher who -- and I don't remember the year, but...
HEITLERI think it was '86.
VIOLA5 or 6.
HEITLER'85 or '86, January '86, I think.
SUSAN...I (unintelligible) something in there. I just remember they wheeled TV's into the classroom. The kids all got to eat lunch in their classrooms into the cafeteria. So, you know, they combined class so everybody could watch it on TV. And, you know, it wasn't up very long before the shuttle exploded and, you know, I was about -- it was in fifth grade so I was probably 11 years old and I -- still to this day, although I do remember the World Trade Center, I remember the second space shuttle exploding, I still -- that's my first memory of those two trails of smoke going two different directions.
SUSANAnd, you know, being 11 years old and the teachers were so excited and then it just fell so flat, you know. And nobody knew what to say, you know, to the kids. You know, they immediately -- TV's were turned off, immediately they're bringing everything -- you know, getting back to class and, you know, the older kids, I think, talked about it, the younger kids, I'm not sure what they did with them. But it was immediately no longer exciting, you know (word?) ...
VOGELWell, or exciting in a different way. Susan, you raised...
SUSANYeah, it was so exciting for five minutes and then, oh my God, what now? What do we say to these poor children? You know, and it was very scary, even at 11 years old, to think that -- something big like that could explode, you know. Could it had exploded over my house? I mean, I lived up here in Maryland, but, you know, planes go up in the sky all the time.
SUSANYou know, so (word?) ...
VOGELWell, Susan, you...
SUSAN... (unintelligible) ...
VOGEL...you raise a really good issue when you mention that the teachers didn't know what to do. I know, kids look to parents, I'm guessing, or to the authority figure in the room when something bad happens. How do you keep it together or what if you don't?
GRANTWell, I think, mostly you need to know your child and be as honest and open with your child as you can be within perimeters. I mean, you -- sometimes you're going to lose it, but you really do want to try to keep that brave face on. But mostly, you want to say, we're all human. You're confused by this, I'm confused by this. Let -- you know.
GRANTAnd when we write in KidsPost about whether it's, you know, the Japan earthquake or the space shuttle -- the second space shuttle that exploded in 2003, I think it was, we wrote about, you always want to encourage kids to have a conversation with a parent, with a teacher, with an adult. You know, Here There Everywhere, KidsPost, any of the sources that are out there are meant to be in conjunction, in teamwork with parents and educators.
GRANTAnd you look for those great, sort of, teachable moments. And, for me, for example, when Osama bin-Laden was captured and killed, that was a really hard one, but people were dancing in the streets -- and I think kids needed context to understand that because I think for most kids, death equals sadness. It's a very simple equation. And as we're coming up on September 11th, our readers have no memories of that. They don't know who Osama bin-Laden is.
GRANTAnd they needed the context. And when you have the opportunity to do that kind of teachable moment that -- I think that's where news and education can come together in a really powerful way.
VOGELYou know, Joe...
VOGELOh, I'm going to ask Joe and then we'll come to you Claudia. Joe, I know, you talked recently about some -- a study or a set of questions that were asked to the kids who were in the room with President Bush, at the time that President Bush learned about 9/11.
VIOLAYeah, I mean, I was -- I think that one of the things that is important to remember here, especially around these issues, is first and foremost, kids will know if you're lying.
VIOLASo, a lot of what Tracy was just talking about was making me think, yeah, you know, this kind of opened discourse and honest discourse, within the boundaries of what your child is capable of understanding, is so important. But the second you start pushing the envelope and lying to them, they will call you on it. They will call you on it. But I would say, that there are a lot of -- there's an interesting -- a few interesting resources out there, at the moment, to think about how to talk with kids about some of these incidents that might seem counter-intuitive to adults, never mind to kids.
VIOLAAnd one of the things that I came across recently, just on the New York Times blog, the learning network, was just a collection of ways teachers from across the country, writing in, talking about how they're talking with kids about 9/11 and referencing the interview about -- with the President, the former President. I would recommend people check it out.
VOGELThat's a great recommendation. We have a list of resources and links to Here There Everywhere, as well as to the KidsPost and some other great references for kids and the news at our website, kojoshow.org. We -- Claudia, I know that you're tackling 9/11 by working with a child psychologist, right?
HEITLERYes, I am. I think 9/11, 10 years later is important. I think partially because of the event itself clearly, and because, you know, a lot of kids hadn't been born or were extremely young at that time. One soldier that I spoke to who will be part of a prospective piece next week, actually reminded me, and I hadn't thought of it in this way that his kids had always lived in a world that was at war as a result of this which, you know, it didn't really feel like it on a day-to-day basis necessarily in our lives with our kids being young, but it's true.
HEITLERAnd I think the other thing that's -- so we do -- yes. We do have a child psychologist, and it's a resource for parents or for kids or older kids to ask their questions. I think what's important and what we try to do is to give people an opportunity to ask the questions that are relevant and important to them, and I think that kids come up with things that I couldn't anticipate even writing about.
HEITLERMy son for example, he was interested in, you know, well, what country attacked us, and weren't they supposed to let us know before they did that, and, you know, and things like this, and I don't -- you don't instantly necessarily have the answer. They weren't necessarily emotive questions, but I think he's processing this right now.
HEITLERThe one thing that I am interested in this terms of the difficult things to tackle is that, you hoe, now ten years later, we also living in a world where President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize, you know, within the same few months of taking out Osama bin Laden with a bullet to the head, and I think that that's a really confusing, conflicting message for parents to try to break down and explain how that can be, and then you take it in the context of a child, you know, where when their rabbit dies it's traumatizing and, you know, they're overcome with emotion, and then ten minutes later they can get onto to computer and play a video game where they can shoot at something and, you know, clearly feel a disconnect from that, and so it's a really tricky time I think.
VOGELMost definitely. The voice you were just listening to is Claudia Heitler. She's the founder of the website Here There Everywhere - News for Kids. She's also a former producer at "The Today Show" for NBC. In studio with us is Tracy Grant, the editor of the KidsPost section of the Washington Post, and also, Joe Viola, the school psychologist at St. Albans school here in D.C., and a professor at the GW Professional Psychology Program.
VOGELThe phone lines are crowded. We're getting a ton of tweets an e-mails. We'll get back to the conversation after a short break. I'm Diane Vogel, managing producer of "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," sitting in today for Kojo. Be right back.
VOGELWelcome back. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" at WAMU 88.5 in Washington D.C. I'm Diane Vogel, managing producer of the show, sitting in for Kojo. We're talking today about kids and the news, and how kids process the news and the adults in their lives can kind of ask or answer some questions even if they are repeated 17 times over, even if they are offered up at the time when they're supposed to be going to bed.
VOGELWe know that everyone wants to talk because the news events over the past couple of weeks, hurricanes, earthquakes, and of course the upcoming 9/11 anniversary are all things that young kids are going to be challenged with and may have a different point of view or learning opportunity from. I'm going to go to Katie. Katie in Washington, D.C., you're on the air.
KATIEHi. Thank you for taking my call. I'm thrilled with the topic told. I'm a professor of elementary education at George Mason University, teaching social studies methods, and for a lot of our pre-service teachers, they're very nervous about talking about current events in the classroom. You know, I think they feel really uncomfortable or worried about how kids will interpret it, but something I'd like to hear from your guests today is about the students you don't just overhear bad news and want help making sense of it, but who are actually living the bad news themselves.
KATIESo whether they've lost a family member in a war, or their families been really affected by the recession, they have maybe gay or lesbian parents and they're affected by recent legal victories that either -- not just things that kids or overhearing but that they're experiencing it themselves, and I wondered if you're guests could comment. And I'm excited to hear about the blog and the KidsPost too, so thank you for those resources.
VOGELNo problem. I'm gonna ask to start this conversation and then go to Claudia. Go ahead, Joe.
VIOLAThe first thing that comes to mind for me is just general awareness of those that you're teaching in the classroom. So I guess I would say just as parents should communicate with each other about important topics and how to talk to their own kids about it, teachers and administrators should do the same. One thing that I thought of right away listening to Katie was this idea that we can't always prepare for everything, but one of the things that we do is be tuned in to those in our classrooms who are going to have heightened responses.
VIOLAAnd I don't think that that should limit the opportunity and the availability to have those conversations, but I do think that it warrants more individual attention, more checking in from the teacher to see how they're handling the conversation, if there's anything in particular that the student feels like share with the group, they should be allowed to.
VOGELSure. And Claudia, I know that you're up in New York of course, so you may have experienced some of this more firsthand, and you are also if I understand, you've worked in a group setting with kids, the website is kind of an outgrowth of teaching or talking to kids in your son's class about the news. So how have you related news events to individual lives of kids who are experiencing it? Claudia?
HEITLERHi, yes. I'm sorry, I'm just thinking about the answer. These are great questions and I appreciate Katie calling in. I think -- I'm not sure if I'm going to answer the question directly. I think the hurricane in this area anyways is -- especially because it affected 65 million people, is the most recent example obviously of something that personally affected people. I think in that particular situation it was just trying to be factual but not be alarmist, and I think that's one aspect of it.
HEITLERIn terms of kids personally experiencing something, that's a great question. It hasn't happened so often -- the main thing that I try to do is just to make sure that I'm completely factual when I answer these questions and to really understand that these news stories are not one size fits all. What sounds like something like is heavy to some other child, and then they're going to take that home with them.
HEITLERSo I'm really careful about how I present it in the class, and specifically on the website because now it's written down and it's on the record. I also know just in terms of being a journalist and being a mother, a lot of these things -- these big events, I haven't personally experienced because I wasn't part of the news story, but I've personally experienced them because I was there shortly after covering it, and I've covered school shootings and I've covered plane crashes and I covered 9/11, and a lot of these situations, and I think that just really understanding that people are involved and their feelings are involved and their emotions are involved, and all of that, and just really bringing a sensitivity to it.
HEITLERAnd I'm trying to give an outlet as much as possible in working with the school, and Tracy keeps making the point so well, it's a conversation starter that needs to be in partnership with, you know, the schools and with the parents.
VOGELThat's a great recommendation.
VIOLAAnd quickly, because I'm aware of the callers and the time, I would also say that for elementary in particular, it's vitally important to give the kids permission to still be kids.
VIOLASo If you're having these heavy conversations and know there are children in the room who have experienced these, you know, difficult times, it's okay to allow them to have a routine and to have fun like they would ordinarily, and especially give them the space to explore those thoughts and feelings, but definitely give them time to be kids.
VOGELAnd maybe have them draw a picture about what they've experienced, or...
VIOLAYeah. Anything expressive is...
VOGELInterview a grandparent.
VIOLAAbsolutely. Somebody that was with them through another experience, how they handled it, something like that.
VOGELMm-hmm. I want to read a few e-mail, because we are running down on time. We only have about eight minutes left in the conversation, and I thought we might turn to some of the resources and recommendations, and I thought this one from Bill in Winchester was a good one. "I grew up in the 1950s and '60s. My dad used movies to help me understand about important points in the day. I remember him watching with me powerful movies like 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,' 'They Call Me Mr. Tibbs,' 'Seven Days in May,' or 'The Manchurian Candidate,' just to name a few.
VOGELAlthough each of these films were fiction, they helped contribute to my understanding of the world around me and helped shape me as the adult I was to become." A Facebook post from Paul says, "I've never tried to protect my kids from any type of news. They are not 13 and 15, and are much more aware of current events and past event than their peers. In addition to sharing news with them, I would also make sure to discuss the motives that the author telling you about the news may have had, and how reliable their information may be.
VOGELI have to admit, I'm glad I never tried to quote unquote 'protect them.'"
GRANT...weigh in? I think that's great, and I think that's certainly a very valid position to have. I think it's really important to respect each family's position on this.
GRANTIn KidsPost we publish birthdays of the week.
GRANTAnd it's -- we always do it with parental permission. We only publish those that are sent to us, and readers fall into two camps on this. Either this is the nicest, most empowering thing that the Washington Post could do for their kid, or we are publishing a yellow pages for pedophiles.
VOGELAnd you know what, it's an individual family decision, and how, you know, I -- I'm a journalist, Claudia's a journalist, it's sort of in our DNA. Our kids are going to grow up hearing a lot, but I don't think the parents who want to keep their kids kids a little bit longer, or who think that their kids don't need to know about Oslo, I don't think that's a wrong -- I don't think there are any wrong choices here. I think you need to know what's right for your family.
VOGELThat's the voice of Tracy Grant, the editor of the KidsPost section. Also in studio is Joe Viola, the school psychologist at St. Albans School in Washington D.C., and joining us from New York is Claudia Heitler who runs the website Here There Everywhere - News for Kids. I'm Diane Vogel sitting in for Kojo on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I wanted to read also an e-mail from Charlotte in D.C.
VOGELShe says, "One of my greatest struggles has always been explaining terrorism. Our family is Muslim, and my children keep asking -- they've asked several times why is that Muslims are always killing people? It is the only religion that she hears named when people talk about a violent action." Now, I thought I would ask you guys both, do you have a suggestion for Charlotte, and is there a way now with our somewhat bias news coverage, you sometimes hear far worse things in one place than another. What do you recommend parents do?
GRANTBoy, that's just really, really tough, and I mean, I think there's some historic perspective is that she can share with her kids, but it is necessarily anti-institutional religion, but to point out that really in the context of history, Muslims don't have a monopoly on this kind of bad behavior. I mean, that's a difficult thing to say, but I think a conversation about the difference between news and history, and how time gives perspective to events is really an important conversation to have.
VIOLAYeah. And the other thing -- the only thing I would add is just how more often than not these conversations lend to discussions about tolerance.
VOGELSure. And Claudia, go ahead. I know you say news is like currency in that it starts getting spread around. What were you going to add?
HEITLERI was just going to say it was interesting, I was writing my overview of 9/11, and you know, there's no actual definition for terrorism, which I just need to make it as simple as possible, and yet there's no official definition. And then at one point, you know, they talk about how people spread, you know, it's a group of people multi-nationals and, you know, it's a slippery slope, but, you know, at one point I was struggling between saying that they spread fear through violence, but then some people make the distinction between unlawful violence, and I'm thinking, wow...
VOGELKids aren't going to get that issue, lawful violence.
HEITLERIt's tricky. Unlawful -- I'm like all right. But it is tricky. I know that I try to stick to the facts, and I think for 9/11, my real focus in trying to decide for example to illustrate the point is that, you know, what is the defining photograph for example. What photo did I want to lead with? You have to put one photo up, and what is the -- what is the picture? And I ended up thinking that 9/11 is about the victims, and I really -- I put up a photo of the victims and the people that were impacted on that day, and I think that that's where I choose to put the focus.
VOGELThat's a great example. Since we're running quickly out of time, Joe, I wanted to make sure we didn't leave without saying, I understand a recent study said that boys want to have a different reaction to how they want to talk about news or whether they want to talk about news versus girls. What did the study say briefly?
VIOLAWell, you know, a lot of this is not necessarily new information, but boys tend to be a bit more problem solving oriented than exploratory than girls, particularly at a young age. So it was just reinforcing some of what we already know about some of the difficulties that young boys in particular can have not being impulsive or not being over reactionary to that kind of information, whereas girls whose minds and brain develop differently are much more able to be process oriented and a young age.
VOGELI think that's going to have to be our last word. I'm so sorry. That was a terrific conversation. You've been listening to Claudia Heitler, the founder of the website Here There Everywhere - News for Kids, Joe Viola, school psychologist at St. Albans School, Tracy Grant the editor of the KidsPost at the Washington Post. You've been -- I'm Diane Vogel, managing producer of "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
VOGELYou can find all kinds of links at our website, kojoshow.org. You'll find links to the different sites we've talked about, the resources. You'll also find, in about seven hours, a written transcript at the website. So if you want to check it out there, you can. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." The great team behind "The Kojo Show" is Brendan Sweeney, Tayla Burney, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Michael Martinez. A.C. Valdez has been on the phones. Timmy Olmstead is today's engineer. I'm Diane Vogel, the managing producer of the show sitting for Kojo. Thank you so much for joining us.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo talks with author Briana Thomas about her book “Black Broadway In Washington D.C.,” and the District’s rich Black history.
Poet, essayist and editor Kevin Young is the second director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. He joins Kojo to talk about his vision for the museum and how it can help us make sense of this moment in history.
Ms. Woodruff joins us to talk about her successful career in broadcasting, how the field of journalism has changed over the decades and why she chose to make D.C. home.