Education Column by Secret Teacher: Helping our children handle traumatic global news in school

The current affairs stories  that are drip-fed to Sheffield school children in this age of global news outlets and social media can be immensely upsetting for them to handle.

By Secret Teacher
Wednesday, 20 March, 2019, 09:37
Helping children come to terms with traumatic news in the classroom

 The news that came out of Christchurch last week was one of the most devastating I have heard over recent years. 

The terrible terrorist attack which saw dozens of innocent people gunned down left the world shocked, stunned and upset. 

For our children, who often don’t hear all the story and are left to fill in the gaps themselves, having somebody explain the situation to them in a calm manner can do a lot to aid their understanding and dispel any rumours that might be going around the school yard. 

The most forwarding thinking schools in the city have addressed the barbaric act of terrorism this week in assemblies, form periods and lessons. 

Taking time to answer questions and have a discussion about what has happened can be a great help, particularly if incidents of this magnitude are not talked about openly at home. 

For a worried 11-year-old, catching a brief sight of a news programme can raise more questions than it answers, so well done to all the teachers tackling the events in New Zealand as part of their subject matter this week.

Of course, social media plays an increasing role in the lives of young people these days, often doing damage as often as it helps with communication. 

Hearing how the murderous actions were live-streamed on Facebook is sickening. Discovering this week how young people in the city have been accessing the gruesome images raises concern not only about the content they are downloading at home but also the mental damage it will have done to them.

At the end of one Year 11 class this week, a student approached me on the way out of the classroom and asked me if I had seen the footage.

After explaining that there’s no way I would search out or click on such horrific content, he smiled and told me how he had watched it for some time but had then turned it off.

I asked if he wanted to talk about this further, but he shook his head and then – alarmingly – told me it was only like watching somebody playing Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto.

This was a very disturbing moment, and one which captured many things wrong with society. 

Firstly, the fact that this terrible attack took place is bad enough, but that it was filmed and shared makes it somehow worse, more personal. 

And then this footage being uploaded onto the web brings this onto a new world stage, one where a 15-year-old boy can look it up and see people being murdered in cold blood – real people, not virtual reality gameplayers on the Internet.

That boy cannot unsee those images, they are with him forever and they will have further eroded his perception of what is acceptable and eaten away at his childhood.

We, as adults, need to do several things here to keep our children safe online. 

The first is to play a much bigger role in monitoring what they are getting up to online and putting a stop to anything that concerns us.

One of the best ways to do this is to engage in conversations, but it should also involve putting on safety nets and randomly checking their phones, tablets and laptops to see what searches have been taking place.

If it causes problems because they feel their privacy is being invaded, then that’s just tough. We need to remember that we are the adults and they are the children.

We also need to make sure we are addressing the issues that matter in school, making time for discussion about the news instead of brushing it under the curriculum carpet.

Having spoken to colleagues this week, it’s clear that several schools have dealt with the New Zealand terrorist task in a way that will help their children.

But I wonder if many teachers – especially at junior school – gave the issue the same amount of time as they did with the recent Momo scare.

Our children don’t just need help with perceived risks, they need to be sensibly and carefully informed about and some of the very real and disturbing issues that affect the world.

Ignoring this and letting them pick up half a story from their friends may be more damaging and result in increased anxieties for our young people.