“Mommy why do people die when they go to Marikana?"
Benita Levin asks how we can help our children deal with harsh news stories.
The question stopped me in my tracks. “Sorry, my angel, what did you say”, I asked my six-year old son, still stunned.
“Why do people die when they go to Marikana?” the question shot back again.
I felt a lump in my throat. Stunned silence. I simply didn’t have an answer for a child. To be honest, I don’t have an answer for an adult – it’s something I’m still battling to wrap my head around. Am sure many feel the same way?
I have always loved discussing news events with my children.
Their reactions are always innocent and heartwarming. Like, the time I showed my son a picture of Neil Armstrong in the newspaper. He replied: “Is that Lance Armstrong’s brother”. When I explained the first man to land on the moon had died, my daughter asked: ”Does that mean he’s with Michael Jackson”… When I told my son Barack Obama would stay on as US president, he responded: “Shooo, he’s lucky… now he doesn’t have to move out of the big White House”.
One can’t help but smile – news through the eyes of a child.
But it's pretty obvious, one wouldn’t discuss many of the local and global news events with one’s children. The range of disturbing stories we tackle in a newsroom on a daily basis would never enter a conversation with one’s young family members. And yet, one really can’t protect them forever from hearing about the often harsh realities in our world.
Colleagues often tease me because I usually have two radios on in my house at the same time – so I can monitor two different radio stations at the same time. But I have to admit, I often have to turn the volume down during the news at home or in the car, because there is far too much children simply don’t need to hear.
A man accused of hiring men to gang-rape his wife. The same man accused of killing her teenage son. A young Pretoria mother shot dead shortly after dropping her son at school. The matric pupil shot dead during a hijacking.The four pupils knocked over and killed after an apparent drag race. The list is endless.
Frankly, these violent attacks are difficult for adults to stomach. As a mother and a wife, it seems incomprehensible that a person might plan to put a spouse in such extreme danger and pain. Could a man really plot to kill the mother of his young son? Could a man really pay a hitman to kill his wife while they are on honeymoon? These questions can haunt one in the early hours of the morning, long after the news deadlines have been met.
It is coverage of these kinds of attacks that prompt us to offer reporters counselling. Often, talking about the carnage one has seen is needed. In some cases, it helps stop the nightmares. Some reporters go to the scene of violent crimes on a regular basis.
News anchors deal with graphic detail of a range of stories, from war zones abroad to gruesome accidents around the corner. The help is there if they want it. No one can be forced to talk to a professional about the difficulties covering news in an ever-changing world. But the option is always there.
But how do we help the youngsters who hear about these stories? Turning down the volume on our radios or switching television news channels when graphic pictures appear on our small screens?
Do we only turn up the volume again when news focuses on the many positive stories – a world record ribbon attempt to raise awareness about Aids or the Proteas trouncing the Aussies?
Do we keep telling our children about the remarkable achievements of human beings on earth and on the moon… and do we just hope that they don’t ask questions like, “Why do people die when they go to Marikana?”
Benita Levin is a News Editor for Eyewitness News in Johannesburg. She is also an accredited life coach.
You can follow her on Twitter: @benitalevin