Growing up, we were “forced” every night to watch Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News at 7pm. We only had one TV, and at 7pm, that’s what we watched, no matter what (except on Sunday nights when it wasn’t on and we could watch Fraggle Rock). I grew up in the 1980s learning about the world through Dan Rather and asking my parents questions about Oliver North and Iran, Communism, and Star Wars. I started high school with a pretty solid (for a 12-year-old) knowledge of the world. It was clearly incomplete, but I knew that there was stuff going on out in the world and also how to ask questions about it to get the answers I needed.
We don’t watch the news on TV, local or cable, in my house. Neither my husband nor I can stand it. Locally, we’re an hour away from the nearest local affiliate, so the news isn’t really all that local at all (save for when it’s really depressing or disturbing). Nationally, well, if the recent coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombing has taught us anything, it’s that cable news is dropping the ball. The “talking” heads, the rampant speculation, and the often graphic images fill us with bile. We get our news from Twitter and other Internet sources, carefully cross-referencing what we read, and critically evaluating their veracity and relevance.
The images that are now shown on the news are, to my mind, too much for a 4-year-old and 6-year-old to handle. And, we don’t get a dead-tree newspaper, either, which was another way I remember reading the news when I was younger (well, at the very least the comics and the sports pages). I am really beginning to wonder how we are going to introduce our kids to the news as they get older. We can talk about “critical media skills” or “digital literacy” but it becomes a much trickier concept to put into practice. It’s not that we want to shelter our children from the news and the world around them; to the contrary, we want to expose our kids to as many different perspectives and experiences as possible. The news, unfortunately, rarely provides that in any sort of constructive way.
As they learn to read, it will be easier to go online with them and start to read and learn more about current events and the wider world around them. But it’s not like when I was younger and was exposed to newspaper headlines because they were left out on the kitchen table, or to the latest revelation of the Iran Contra scandal because it was on TV every night. So far, my kids see their father and I using out phones for what they assume is “for play” (which is wrong because usually we’re reading the news) and our computers “for work” (which, seeing as how my husband does political science, reading the news is a part of his job). We’re being challenged as parents to expand how our kids understand the gadgets we use, but also how they get to see the larger world around them.