The most terrible images and threats are all over social media, and our kids are seeing at least some of it.
For advice, we turned to Dr. Jeremy Chapman, a Congregation Shalom congregant, and a child and adolescent psychiatrist who treats young people exposed to horrific stimuli.
Chapman noted that children will see police cars and officers at Jewish institutions, “but even without these visible factors, kids are talking to each other in classrooms, at dinner tables, and of course on social media.”
“Many young people feel pressured to announce their personal views on issues like this, lest they be ‘cancelled’ by peers for remaining silent. All of this takes an emotional toll on our children, and they may not feel comfortable talking with others about it.”
The key is open adult communication with children, said Chapman, who is medical director of child psychiatry for SSM Health Treffert Studios, Fond du Lac.
In the present moment, he said, “I think that children run an exceedingly high risk of encountering graphic and highly disturbing videos in their social media feeds. Some experts have recommended that kids take a break or avoid watching videos altogether for some period of time.”
“Although I agree with this in theory, I think it would be very difficult to implement, short of completely cutting off your children’s access to internet-connected devices,” he said. “Most important is to equip kids with open lines of communication to discuss this content when it inevitably finds its way to their eyes and ears.”
Chapman has a list of recommendations for adults, written not just for the Israel-Hamas conflict, but for all processing of violent social media content. To make the recommendations easy to remember, he has organized them into 4 R’s: React, Research, Reflect, and Reset.
Here are Chapman’s “4 R’s of Processing Violent Social Media Content with Kids”:
Step 1: React
- Allow your child plenty of space for emotions/reactions such as anger, confusion, fear, sadness, and cynicism.
- Watch for unpredictable mood/behavioral changes, which may be related to traumatic exposure, even if the child does not overtly draw this connection.
- Listen to your child — find out what they already know and ask them what they still want to know.
Step 2: Research
- Embark upon a proactive learning journey with your child. Teach them to challenge their assumptions and the content they see, to seek credible sources that prioritize objective information, and to come to you if they’re not sure about the accuracy of things they read, see, watch, and hear.
- Explain to the child that different people have different perspectives, and that there are many disputes about what is and is not factual. Their classmates or friends may have different beliefs!
- Research AACAP and AAP recommendations regarding screen use and access by social-emotional and developmental age. Learn about available settings to control and limit the child’s exposure in social media and elsewhere and discuss with the child the importance of these measures.
Step 3: Reflect
- Invite — but never force — open communication. Be prepared to discuss challenging or unexpected topics. Be mindful to frame your conversation appropriately based on your child’s social-emotional age.
- Always be honest to the best of your ability and acknowledge that even you don’t have all the answers.
- Model for your child how to name feelings, process those feelings, and think through the situation, what it means to them, and how it may impact their life.
Step 4: Reset
- Help your child reset algorithms in their social media feeds.
- Optimize settings to protect your children, based on their age and developmental level.
- Take time to recenter yourself and ground yourself before resuming regular activities. Of course, there are so many more considerations; this is meant as a starting point. Everybody responds differently to traumatic exposures, and such situations provide an opportunity for improved communication and increased compassion between loved ones, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and even adversaries.