Understanding war and crises: Child-appropriate news and background information

The whole world is shocked by Russia's attack on Ukraine and the ongoing war. What stuns adults is even more difficult for children and young people to comprehend, but it is hardly possible to keep children away from the current news and exposure to dreadful images and videos. Parents and educators face the difficult task of finding age-appropriate ways of explaining what is happening and answering questions children might have, while at the same time protecting them from harmful media experiences. 

Date 2022-06-20 Author BIK Team Section awareness, news, positive-content Topic media literacy/education, potentially harmful content Audience children and young people, media specialist, parents and carers, teachers, educators and professionals
Girl looking at smartphone in a classroom

Digital content, services and apps for children fulfilling the criteria for positive online content can make an important difference for children and young people in this regard. Those resources with a special focus on news, information and politics ensure a safe digital experience without being confronted with harmful content, while at the same time allowing children to inform themselves online in an age-appropriate way. This is especially important during frightening times and when the news covers developments that can have a drastic impact on the lives of adults and young people alike. Positive and safe news offerings for children are embedded in the vision of the new European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids (referred to as BIK+)

But how can you identify positive online content with child-appropriate information on horrific events? 

  • Harmful pictures and videos. Positive online content principles advocate not showing content that may be harmful to children’s personal development. This includes any content that can frighten children – therefore, such resources won’t include extreme images or videos of violence and war and, especially, won’t report on the individual fates of children. 
  • Age-appropriate information. Resources which adhere to positive online content principles provide information in an age-appropriate and suitable way: children and young people will find news that is age-appropriate, in an understandable language, with simple and clear sentences. Such resources often include short, animated videos or helpful infographics, which can help the reader to absorb complex information. Equally, the connections between events are explained and placed in a broader context. Furthermore, dramatic and frightening pictures and videos are avoided. 
  • Send in your questions. Many positive online content resources let children send in their own questions and responses are published, generally shaping the content around the specific needs of the target group(s). To give an example, the German Children’s Fund offers a special question and answer section on the war on its children’s website Kindersache
  • You don’t know where to start? Look out for specific news websites, and TV and radio channels for youth – many children’s websites offer a curated news widget as well. The digital content of child welfare and children’s rights organisations, intercultural and democracy projects, museums and other educational institutions often offer child-friendly online content on human rights, peace and freedom, or other relevant topics. Some best practices include:
    • The Belgian Karrewiet (in Dutch), a news bulletin from the public broadcaster VRT aimed at children aged 10-12. 
    • The daily news bulletin Jeugdjournaal (in Dutch) aimed at children aged 9-12 from the broadcaster NOS or the weekly newspaper Kidsweek for children aged 7-12 available online, on social media and as an app from the Netherlands. 
    • The German children’s TV and online news programme logo! by public broadcaster ZDF or the online children’s online newspaper Duda.news
    • The Supernytt news programme for children aged 8-12 from Norway. 
    • The British CBBC Newsround site which provides an extensive online news channel for young people. 
  • Creative expression of oneself. Younger children often process things that are bothering them through playing or by drawing pictures, but expressing oneself creatively can also be a useful coping strategy for older children and adolescents. Positive online content resources often encourage creative processes and offer, for example, an online gallery of children’s drawings on the topic or tutorials for craft ideas. 
    • Look at the collection of doves of peace by readers of the Austrian children’s online newspaper Kleine Kinderzeitung
    • Children can create their own virtual posters and express their wishes and messages for Ukraine on the German Federal Agency for Civic Education’s website for children HanisauLand
  • Combatting misinformation. Offering specific child-friendly and safe information services reduces the risk of children encountering misinformation online. When families agree on specific age-appropriate news channels or sites, children and young people can browse through information and current developments independently. 
  • What about older children and teenagers? You can also find age-appropriate content on social media. Look out for specific news channels for teenagers from professional media outlets. Also, raise awareness about the risks of coming across possible misinformation with the young people in your care. Equally, encourage them to seek out support whenever they face a problem, such as encountering frightening pictures and videos on social media or in messenger groups. Examples include: 
    • News account NWS on Instagram (in Dutch from Belgium) from the public broadcaster VRT. 
    • Germany’s most well-known news programme, Tagesschau, by public broadcaster ARD with its young channel on TikTok or the morning news briefing podcast "0630“ by public regional broadcaster WDR. 
    • NOS Stories from the Netherlands provides various social media channels for teenagers, including on Snapchat and YouTube
  • Togetherness is key. Depending on the child's individual stage of development, parents and educators should watch news specifically made for the respective age group together with their child and discuss what they have seen afterwards. Younger children, in particular, perceive news without being aware of geographical distances, and may have difficulty assessing the extent to which the content specifically affects them and can impact their lives. Parents and educators should respond to their questions and take children‘s concerns seriously. Positive online content resources can help with explaining the current situation or offer guidance on ways to start a conversation on the topic. 

Over the summer period and ramping up to September 2022, a new positive online content campaign will highlight new resources throughout Europe, provide special tips from experts for parents and educators, and seek the voices and views of children themselves. It will also explore emerging technologies and consider providers’ responsibilities, alongside much more. 

Stay tuned for more on positive online content, or check out the Positive Online Content Campaign website in the meantime. There, you can also find useful examples of appropriate positive online content resources for children and young people and search resources by country

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