PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The turmoil this week is just the latest assault on our senses and our children are seeing it too.
Tony Mannarino, Ph.D. from Allegheny Health Network is a psychologist specializing in child trauma and says children are impacted by all this.
He says parents need to be proactive to drive home the zero tolerance for violence message.
“I think it’s scarier for teenagers because, you know, kids in our society teenagers particularly can feel like they don’t have a voice, and then maybe the way to get a voice is by what they observe on TV,” he said.
So he says parents need to open a line of communication.
“Well, I think you hit the nail on the head,” he said. “Having the kind of relationship with our adolescent children, that’s open enough so that they feel like they can talk to us. And then when they express points of view guys that we might very seriously disagree with to express respect for their opinion, and that that encourages openness and it encourages the idea that people who care about each other can have different points of view. So with teenagers, we have to really tell them the truth, at least in terms of what we know, and give them accurate information because kids are going to get that information somewhere else. Anyway, so we should try and share with them what we know in such a way that we can have an honest discussion with them.”
Dr. Mannarino says if parents don’t provide a context to what adolescents are seeing they will get the information from their friends or social media.
Younger children can especially be impacted by the turmoil when they see their parents get volatile.
“The parents are so upset, so angry, so distressed that kids are worried that mom or dad is kind of out of control, a little bit,” he explained. “That’s the kind of situation that can be really scary for kids.”
He doesn’t mean parents cannot have emotions, but moderation is important.
“I think it models for children that we as parents don’t agree with violence,” he said. “We don’t accept violence in our society, and we don’t want to do that, encourage young children.”
WATCH: Answering Your Child’s Questions
And if children have questions?
“I think the questions need to be answered in a way that’s consistent with their age,” he said. “With young kids you know say 10 or 11 and under. I think kids need to have some basic information, and I think we also want to provide, particularly with the really young kids, 4,5,6,7 years age reassurance.”
If you clearly see the clashes upsetting children Dr. Mannarino says you may need to shield them from seeing it.
“That is one of the things that parents of younger children can do,” he said. “Turn the TV off, so that children are not in sort of constantly watching the same stuff over and over again, which would really increase the probability that they could experience some anxiety associated with it.”
Dr. Mannarino says the way to handle the situation depends on how your child is reacting.
As for reassurance, he says children just want to feel safe and parents should drive home the message that our leaders will find ways to quell the violence and protect everyone.
Most importantly, as a parent, you are going to protect them.