Q. "My 8-year-old son always watches the news. Actually, he is really waiting for Glenn Brenner or George Michael, but because he doesn't want to miss their sports reports, he always watches the news.
"My concern is whether it is fit for him to watch. I've always felt that TV can rob children of their childhood by confronting them with the harshest and grimmest realities of life, so I protect them from "Hill Street Blues"; "Starsky and Hutch"; "Dallas"; "Fantasy Island" and the like. But then I let this 8-year-old watch the news.
"Each evening, as film clips of mangled, injured and dead bodies are shown, or as graphic descriptions of criminal acts are given, I wrestle with the urge to jump up and turn off the TV. And then my impulse is checked by another feeling -- the desire not to shelter my child too much. After all, death and danger are part of life and at least the news depicts only what has happened, not some bizarre fantasy. So I leave the TV on and use the news reports as a chance to explain things to my son--things like grief, prejudice, self-protection, gun control, discrimination, freedom, pride and hopelessness.
"But I wonder: Is he paying too high a price? Should I just ban him from the room when the news is on and promise to call him for the sports report?"
A. The news may bother you -- which would be a reasonable reason for turning it off -- but it doesn't seem to be bothering your child because you're handling it so well. If it would begin to bother him, it wouldn't be because of the news, but because you would be overreacting to it.
It would be an overreaction if you sent him from the room during the news, for he would think he should be afraid of it. Or if you dwelled on the explanations too much, it might throw a pall on his thoughts. Although a child is never as carefree as he seems, he is still a bubbly fellow and deserves to stay that way. As you're finding out, the evening news shouldn't change that.
Most children can watch almost anything on television so long as a parent is with him to mock a silly plot, be shocked at violence and get angry about ads that would have us eat cupcakes for breakfast. The real danger of television is to let your child watch it alone for long stretches, where there would be no interaction. It's the talking back and forth that imprints a child's mind. Without it he would miss information and soak up impressions, willy-nilly, with his own confused interpretations added to it.
While you'd never let your son watch the unbelievable 27 hours a week which children supposedly see, the evils of television are overrated. In fact, it has some real benefits, and the news can be one of them.
Except for political cartoons, and maybe a sermon at church, a parent has few springboards to talk about values and probably none so diverse as the news.
By bringing up serious subjects in a casual way, you invite your child to give his ideas and help him sort his own values. They'll never be exactly the same as yours -- no two people ever match completely -- but they will be in tune with the family and make adolescence much easier.
It also will be easier because you're communicating so well now. At this age a child is done with the babyish sayings that made him such fun, and his wit is stuck at riddles. This makes it tempting to say "Run out and play, dear" (or "Go watch TV, dear"), but instead you're showing a great deal of respect to your child by talking with him about substantive things, letting him know how much he matters.
The respect a child gets in the middle years will be returned to you, measure for measure, when he's a teen-ager. It looks like you've got a pretty smooth road ahead.