Should you discuss the news with your kids and, if you don’t, will they pick up on the more exaggerated headlines and worry?
Do you talk to your kids about the news? I’m a journalist and the news is always on in our house. In the living room it’s online news clips and tv news; in the kitchen my partner, who is Catalan, is listening non-stop to the Catalan radio for the latest on what’s going on in Spain.
My partner and I talk about what’s happening a lot because it affects us personally. Since 2016, we have been worrying about what happens next and what the implications are for our family. But it’s not just us because the kids access news too on their phones. The middle two are constantly checking Twitter for the latest K-pop information, but they also look at what’s trending generally.
That was driven home to me the other week when my daughter asked me worriedly if we would have to leave the country after 31st January. So I sat down and explained to her what is going on. Since then I’ve made more of a point of asking the kids to tell me if they are worried about anything in the news. When I turned on Twitter and the leading hashtag was worldwar3 in relation to the Iranian crisis, for instance, I asked the girls, both teenagers, if they had seen it. They had. I talked it through with them and they seemed a little more reassured, if that is the right word for what is going on. They know all about the climate emergency, of course, and what is happening in Australia.
Some people might think it is better to ban phones and computers – and presumably police every tv programme – so that they don’t know all the bad stuff that is out there. My view is that some way or another they are going to find out, whether at school, from peers or just walking into the supermarket and seeing the usual exaggerated headlines. A better approach, in my view, is to teach them to not just read the news, but to read between the lines, to understand the biases, to piece together for themselves a credible, trustworthy idea of what is really happening.
The current royal story is a case in point and all the discussion about whether or not it is linked to racism and whether racism is increasing or not.
To me the whole ‘debate’ is spurious. To say racism has not increased since 2016 is to deny reality. Just take football as an example: monkey chants are back. Of course, there are positive things going on at the same time, such as ethnicity pay audits, but the negative stuff – increases in racially motivated attacks and so forth – is very worrying.
To say race is not a factor in some of the bullying of Meghan Markle, even if not overtly stated, seems to misunderstand how racism operates. From the offset, there seems to have been a collective decision taken that Meghan Markle does not fit. At first she was the ‘exotic’ outsider and then, fairly quickly, the spotlight on the first black woman in the royal family turned toxic. Why? It seems, from the coverage, that she can’t do anything right. Everything Harry does is her fault. Nearly everything she does or says is reported negatively. The typical response of a bully is, when challenged, to go on the attack.
The current legal case is an interesting case in point. The Mail on Sunday’s case seems to rest on Markle’s ‘fitness’ to be a royal based on some journalist’s interpretation of her complex relationship with her father. The bullying has been unrelenting in the last months, and particularly since she has given birth. It’s ironic given all the work the younger royals have done highlighting mental health issues. Supposedly the mental health of a new mother is not important.
“Why are they picking on her?” asked my daughter. “She seems really nice.”
She knows about bullying. She has been bullied at school, starting from the age of around seven – she’s been excluded from groups, made to feel small, made to feel stupid, made to feel ugly. A boy told her he didn’t want to sit next to her because she was black; someone held up a chocolate biscuit and pointed at her, jeering. She has been called the n word several times, told she is a ‘Paki’, told white boys don’t like black girls, that ‘nobody likes you because you’re black’…Her first school didn’t know how to deal with it. They told the boy who made the racist comment off, but all the other stuff, the making her feel small, the everyday chipping away at her, they didn’t do anything much about because it is not overt. Instead she was the problem. “Don’t say anything to x because she’ll say it’s racist,” she was told by her friend. She didn’t even know what racism was. Almost every day she would come out of school in tears. I had to hold her hand every night to help her get to sleep. She has spent years recovering.
Diversity has got a bad name of late. It is seen as a tickbox, marketing type thing by some, but it is important in any walk of life that people with all their differences and all their similarities are able to contribute and, yes, to change existing norms. It’s not something to be frightened of. That also applies to the media. Diversity is important not just for the stories we tell, but for who tells them and how, for whose voice is included and whose isn’t.
I worry about my kids reading the news, but I want to give them the tools to question it. That is a vital, vital thing in an era of fake news. They need to ask questions, challenge the norms, stand up for what they believe in and if they are being bullied, not just take it – either stand their ground if they can or walk away with their head held high.