Why We Don’t Watch The News In Our House

by Sarah Cottrell
Concept Photo / Shutterstock

We don’t watch the news in our house. My children are blissfully unaware of commercials, celebrity scandals, local crime sprees…and terrorists.

My grandmother once said, “I’ll never forget where I was when I heard Elvis died.” I’ve heard others say the same of John Lennon, Martin Luther King, Jr., and even the closing of culturally important diners or music clubs. For me, the indelible moments in time and the places I stood, horror-stricken and mouth agape, while grief slowly consumed me, were 9/11, the Boston Marathon Bombings, and now the Paris attacks.

Growing up, my mother used to keep the television turned on as background noise. There was always an anchor giving weather updates or reading off a list of community events. Nearly 30 years later, I can still recite jingles from local businesses from those days of Technicolor and rabbit ears. We had no real fear about what would come across the airwaves because tragedy was not yet commonplace.

By not playing the news, I am actively keeping the national conversations around terrorism and gun violence, in particular, away from my children. They do not need to know about Sandy Hook or Paris. They do not need to know that there are dangerous men out there who want nothing more than to kill us. They do not need to know that when they become of age they can join the military and fight these monsters on foreign soil.

All of those things will come in time. And as long as I can, I will slow those truths from reaching my children’s ears. For now, they play ninja games in the backyard. They search for fairies in the woods. The scariest thing in to them is my meatloaf or the stink of their dad’s feet when he takes off his shoes at the end of the day. For them, being afraid of the dark is more about the unknown; monsters are an abstract idea completely divorced from reality but instead firmly rooted in imagination.

Fear is a thing they are learning about. While they explore the things that scare them, my husband and I buffer their anxieties with lessons in confidence and courage, bravery and tenacity. We do it on our terms with the hedge of silence from the television and radio so as not to puncture our kids’ world that has yet to be introduced to the real monsters who walk among us.

My job as a mother in this truly fucked up modern world is to keep my children children for as long as I can. I can let them run free and wild with their imaginations, which do not include gun-toting extremists or horrifying fears about being shot at school.

And so I keep the news off.

Anytime I turn on the local or national news—always after the kids are in bed—I see a steady stream of horrible people doing God awful things to each other, from deadly school shootings, the carnage of war, drowned refugee children washing up on shorelines, fraudulent politicians and bankers hurting people all the way to historic wildfires wiping out entire communities. It’s enough to make me wonder if these are end times.

There is only so much I can do as a mother to protect the innocence of my kids’ childhood from the larger dangers that I cannot control. Not allowing the mass media to shout the details of horrific events in my house seems like the smallest and easiest place to start.

But, like it or not, at some point in time, there will come a moment when my children will learn about the atrocities we face—that’s inevitable. I want to be the one to tell them about these issues. Kids at school may talk about the Paris attacks or about their parents being in war zones. My children will hear things from other people about the frightening tragedies that exist outside of PBS, sidewalk chalk, and sweet bedtimes stories. They will come home with questions about guns, about crazy people shooting up schools or blowing up airplanes. There isn’t much I can do to filter out those stories, no matter how hard I try.

When my kids do come to me with fears from what they hear about the crazy and violent actions of others, I want them to be able to ask me all of their questions and to have a family discussion about events without the fear-mongering narratives that so often dictate the tone of the news. Just like the heaviness of the sex talk and the religion talk, the truth about domestic and foreign terrorism will have to come from us—the parents—and not a screen.

There are so many beautiful people and places out there, so many adventures to be had and lessons to be learned. So, while I can, I want to limit the ache of the world at my children’s doorstep so that they can be fearless kids for just a while longer.