Health Watch - Images of War

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

With images of war and violence on television every night, what do you say to your children?

Ongoing conflicts around the world have made the nightly television news especially disturbing to watch, with photos of abused prisoners, suicide attacks, hostages and killings filling the airwaves. How much should children see, and how do you discuss violence with your children? Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say honesty is the key.

UT Southwestern psychologists say children should be able to ask their parents questions about these world events. Parents should be honest in answering, but also reassure children about their safety. Conversations and exposure to war images should be age-appropriate. Children younger than about 9 or 10 shouldn't be watching television war coverage and should probably not get into long, in-depth discussions about the conflicts. Older children should watch coverage with their parents so that parents can answer questions, interpret events and provide reassurance.

It may be particularly tricky to discuss the situation if you know someone serving in the Middle East. In that case, you should try to give honest but reassuring answers about what our military is doing overseas.

Avoiding children's questions about what they see on the news could cause lasting emotional harm. If children don't get answers, they could develop irrational fears and have nightmares about what they imagine is happening.


June 2004