The sooner the kids know about the big bad world the better, but where do we draw the line?

When I first began working for The Hindu In School (a daily that The Hindu publishes specially for school children), I noticed that crime stories rarely made an appearance in the paper. At that time I was of the opinion that that had to change. If we live in a rotten world then kids have to be prepared don’t they?

I’ve since revised my opinion. We do live in a rotten world. And yes, kids do need to be prepared. But is clinical reporting of rapes, murders, and other crimes really preparing them?

Take Sunday night’s Delhi rape case for example. From the news reports I have read, a girl and her friend, a boy were attacked, the girl raped, and both were then thrown out of the bus they were travelling in. The incident is tragic and shameful. The media must highlight it and people must begin to question what kind of a society they are living in and what gives criminals the feeling they can get away with such brazen acts.

But I asked myself what message we are inadvertently giving young impressionable children when we tell them this story. Not to travel in buses at night? Not to watch movies with your boy/girl friend? Or in the case of the Connecticut school shooting, how are the children readers expected to react? Do they just read the news mechanically like we world-hardened adults are able to, or does the incident linger in their minds?

Effect on children

The American Academy of Child and Adoloscent Psychiatry says that “chronic and persistent exposure to such violence can lead to fear, desensitization (numbing), and in some children an increase in aggressive and violent behaviours.”

Another study, published in the Journal of Trauma and Disassociation shows that incidents like the school shooting tend to make some children over-perceive their risk of something similar happening to them.

While it may be necessary for children to be aware of dangers that lurk, I think we also need to be aware of the fine line between taking precautions and inducing paranoia.

Which crimes to report and which ones not to?

In the normal scenario, all that is expected of a journalist is to deliver facts to the reader, but I can’t help but feel that when you’re making a paper exclusively for children, we’ve got to be a little more sensitive.

I think crimes that can be prevented from happening to you by taking some precautionary measure (lock the doors, keep your passwords safe, don’t take sweets from strangers) can and should be reported. On crimes which are so inexplicable and do nothing but instill a sense of disdain at fellow human beings, report in moderation. They can’t stop going to schools or stop travelling in buses and stop living their lives anyway. No precaution anybody takes can protect us from random, illogical things that happen. So why make children world-weary so early?

(Disclaimer: Above are purely my own thoughts on the issue. I'm not trying to, nor am I qualified to prescribe any formula to anyone. Counter-points are welcome and will be appreciated.)