Kids, murder and the media
Children as young as 5 are discussing one of SA’s most notorious murder trials.
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Children have a massive appetite for media. Apart from the desire to sit engrossed in endless repeats of vaguely moronic series, they are also exposed to radio during the school run and use mobile devices whenever possible. It’s almost impossible to shield them from current affairs, but there are some events which may lead to confusion and even emotional trauma for over-exposed kids, such as the high-profile murder trial of athlete Oscar Pistorius.

Murder at the dinner table

Teachers report having overheard children discussing the trial as if it is an instalment in a favourite TV series. No doubt the televisation of the trial has leaked into the home during peak hours and parents are also discussing the twists and turns of witness testimony. Even if you aren’t following the trial, it’s difficult to avoid. At the heart of it, however, is the gruesome death of a woman, Reeva Steenkamp, at the hands of her boyfriend.

Celebrity appears to trump good taste. The thrill of being able to rubberneck at a tragedy such as this is very tempting. But parents who would ordinarily observe age restrictions on movies and video games are slipping when it comes to this trial and all of the evidence being filtered through to the public. Details such as Reeva’s death, gunshot wounds, bloodstains and more are being spread out on a media buffet table for all to see.

Tamer times

As a child I was allowed to watch the news. I can remember events such as the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, the sinking of oil carrier Amoco Cadiz in 1978 and the deaths of Elvis and John Lennon. These are memories I have from childhood. I fretted about the oil spills and cried that a Beatle had died as the TV channels at the time played endless footage. That said, I was relatively informed, and the information didn’t impede my ability to lose myself in helping my Action Man conquer the Swiss Alps (duvet draped over a couch) or build a Lego dungeon for some Playmobil knights.

The news back then was somewhat tamer. A respected talking head, as a newscaster is known, would release the basic details with deep gravitas and the finer points would be written up in dossiers and not fed through to the public. In the NOW age of the internet, media consumers expect to know everything and shun censorship. Even if one TV channel refuses to show a dead body, for example, it’s likely that a quick Google search will uncover the original, more graphic, footage.

Family-friendly filters

My opinion is that there are only a couple of valid reasons for allowing kids to access information about the trial, and those reasons should come with a caveat.

Letting your child observe current affairs can be helpful, but more so if you are helping your child to process those events by asking questions and putting them in context.

Take into account the age and ability of the child to make sense of events which may be too graphic to understand. If the event was fictionalised as a movie, for example, would the age restriction preclude your child being able to watch it?

Your child’s teacher may raise the particular event in class, so the basic facts may help your child to keep abreast of classroom discussions, but, again, be wary of certain graphic details and the appropriateness of these in terms of age and ability to process information.

Many parenting experts suggest that rather than allow very young kids to watch the news, parents can fill them in on what is happening with the basic facts. This ensures that they aren't surprised by some gruesome information on a news bulletin. (Parents.com)

If you are discussing the trial with other adults, remember that younger ears are probably overhearing what is being said and take care not to "overshare".

Ultimately an event such as Reeva Steenkamp’s death should not be treated as family entertainment. It may have some practical uses, but a child’s interpretation of what is going on may lead to insecurity, nightmares and emotional trauma.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

When would you say is appropriate for children to follow current affairs?

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