It seems lately that every time I turn on the news there’s another story about children being abused and this week has been a bad week for horror headlines.
Last week the news reported on the high levels of children in care involved in crime and this week’s headlines have focused on two particularly bad stories about abuse. The first one which shocked the nation hit early in the week about two year old Liam Fee’s mum and her partner who murdered the little boy after inflicting horrific injuries to him, then they tried to blame a seven year old boy for the murder.
The second story which broke only two days later outlined how paedophile Richard Huckle admitted to over 70 charges of rape and abuse to babies, toddlers and children over a course of time while volunteering in Malaysia. The story is so appalling the judge on the case has ordered three sets of juries to be present as the images are considered too horrific for one set of jurors to look at.
Sadly there have always been people in the world that want to harm, kill or abuse children and this is not news, but the prolific 24 hour news on tap via television, mobiles or social media, is having a worrying affect on the children in my house. Last year, in 2015, two major events happened which had an immediate effect on both my looked after children and I had to make a conscious effort not to leave the TV on as I was bombarded with worrying questions about terrorists and if it was safe to go on a plane or on holiday. J, being nine was easier to keep occupied during the terror attacks as he doesn’t have his own mobile yet and I could turn the television off, however, M was receiving updates from her friends on social media and was convinced the plane taking us to Tenerife was going to be blown up.
J, is a child who dwells on things and when I saw him this week with the remote control in his hand watching the story unfold about Liam Fee, I knew the questions would be coming. I switched over to a cartoon channel and as I busied myself making dinner, J sat on a stool near me and as he fiddled with the vegetables I was chopping, he asked ‘why did those ladies kill that little boy… was he naughty?’ My heart broke to hear him say that as his abuser often told him he was naughty and I reassured him as best I could. M came in later with her friend Claire and they were both talking about ‘The Pervy Paedo’ on the news. I asked her not to discuss it in front of J which she respected, but later that evening as I was putting laundry away in her room; she brought the subject up again. M doesn’t have a history of sexual abuse and the reason she is in care is far less dramatic but still painful for her. She asked me all sorts of difficult questions ranging from ‘why have kids if you’re just going to kill them’ to ‘what makes a man a paedophile?’ Talk about being put on the spot! My Hubby gets the easy questions such as ‘why is the sky blue’ and ‘can cows float?’ The cow question came about from a news clip showing flooding in the USA… another reason to regulate the news channels!
Whilst being aware of current issues is important, especially for teenagers as they are learning about the world and their place in it, I feel the everyday news items we take for granted; murder, sex offenders, celebrity dramas, terrorism and natural disasters can have a big effect on a child. After the tragic events in Paris at the end of 2015 where innocent people lost their lives to terrorist attacks, J started having nightmares. His dreams would also be focused on getting out of dramatic and dangerous situations or being trapped somewhere with no way out. Combined with consecutive stressful and upsetting contact with his family, it was February before he could sleep with the light out in his room.
Exposing children to adult themes is a contentious subject; do violent first person video games desensitise children to violence? Does watching horror films suggest that the child will go on to be a murderer? These questions have been asked by psychologists for decades and several high profile murders in the USA have been attributed to violent video games but what about the news?
When I was a child, the Yorkshire Ripper (Peter Sutcliffe) case was all over the news and in the daily papers. For one summer it was all anyone could talk about and I remember asking my mum about it and if it was safe to walk to my Aunty’s house. It didn’t matter that the murders were in the North and we lived in a London borough, to my young and impressionable mind, there was a mad man out there and no one was safe.
In most households the TV or radio is usually on for background noise and whilst we are busy putting the shopping away or making dinner, are we inadvertently exposing our children to upsetting images and stories? I can only go by my experiences and in my house, the news channel is staying off until there are no vulnerable ears and eyes around.