From time to time, I suffer from this nagging worry about the fact that I let my three kids watch the news with me.
On any given evening while I'm making dinner -- unless of course I'm on some crushing deadline and dinner will be hastily-poured bowls of cereal -- I flip on the local and then the national news in the kitchen, frequently leaving it chattering in the background while we eat.
A former newspaper reporter, I teach journalism to college students, to whom I am constantly stressing the importance of keeping up with current events. I want and need to keep abreast of the news, so not only does the news appear on the TV, but it's in the newspapers that sit on the kitchen counter or on the coffee table in the family room. And now that my twin second-graders can read, they can tell what's going on in the world by scanning the headlines and listening to the TV news anchors.
There are some who think that children should be shielded from the news, that the innocence of youth shouldn't be corrupted by the evils of the world that are beamed into our homes on the newscasts or plastered in full-color photos on the front pages of our newspapers. And, for the record, when TV broadcasts are showing or talking about gruesome or inappropriate subject matter, I turn off the TV (think of the Duke rape case). Likewise, when the front pages of the newspapers run graphic images (think of Saddam Hussein with the rope around his neck before his hanging), I hide those papers from the kids.
But, that being said, I think there's virtue in teaching kids to understand that the world isn't necessarily a rosy place, that sometimes bad things happen and that we should do what we can to help one another and to make the world better. When a news report about the war in Iraq comes on, for example, it prompts a civics discussion at our dinner table while my husband and I explain what's happening. In those moments, I can usually count on my 8-year-old son to be empathic about the plight of soldiers serving overseas and express concern for the families left behind.
When the first woman was sworn in as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and we watched and read about the event together, we found suddenly ourselves in a discussion about women's suffrage, shocking my kids when they learned that women have had the right to vote for less than 100 years.
The lessons learned through being informed about the world, through the understanding that they shouldn't take their blessings for granted, and through figuring out how important it is to participate in our democracy, all, I think, override concerns that may plague me periodically about exposing my children to the news at such a young age ... even though my 5-year-old is fond of saying, "I don't like that Brian Williams."
Meredith O'Brien is a journalist who lives with her family in the Boston area.