The National Association of School Psychologists is holding its annual meeting in Chicago this week, an event given new urgency by shootings at a Florida school on Wednesday that left at least 17 people dead. On Thursday, it released guidance on how the media should cover the shootings, warning of the “dangers of intrusive or excessive coverage.”
The guidance says in part:
Intensive, detailed coverage of the event can raise children’s anxiety levels. Troubled youth and those directly impacted by the event may internalize the information and be at renewed risk of severe trauma reactions, such as problems at home or school, extreme anger, aggression, depression, suicide, substance abuse, or the impulse to harm others.
The association has long advocated for policymakers to take action to create safe and successful schools, noting that no single strategy will work on its own. In December, five years after 26 children and educators were killed by a shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., it called for the following steps to be taken by policymakers — steps the association had been urging for years:
- Create welcoming, supportive learning environments.
- Increase access to comprehensive mental and behavioral health services and supports in schools.
- Implement school safety initiatives that balance psychological and physical safety.
- Establish trained school safety and crisis teams.
- Enact and uphold gun laws that prevent access to firearms by those who have the potential to cause harm to themselves or others.
With media outlets covering the shootings 24/7, this is how the association says media should report on crisis events affecting young people:
Circumspection and care are critical for the responsible media coverage of the impact of tragic events (or their anniversary), such as school shootings, terrorism, or war on children and youth. Children are less able than adults to understand their emotional and psychological reactions to the current events. This is particularly true for children who are personally connected to or affected by a loss. While the media can play an important role in providing emergency response information and news about how people are coping, it can also cause real harm to children and vulnerable populations if its focus magnifies painful, disturbing details, people’s loss and suffering, or the possibility of future or ongoing threats. Instead, interviews and media coverage should focus on the healing process that is taking place.
There are many dangers in emphasizing or repeatedly recounting details of a crisis, particularly in cases involving personal loss or suffering of children. Among them are:
The following recommendations can help journalists prevent the potential unintended consequences of inappropriate media coverage of a crisis or anniversary of a crisis event.
To ensure useful, reasonable public information, journalists should:
To prevent harm when reporting about the event, journalists should establish policies and procedures that:
To prevent overreaction, journalists should: