Overexposure to Traumatic Images: What Can Parents Do?

There’s no denying it. It’s harder for us to keep traumatic images away from our kids than it used to be. The dangers children are facing today are both actual and virtual. They’re both real and imaginary—or in other words, image-based. In some respects, we’ve reached a place where images actually have a greater potential to harm us than do real-life dangers.

What can be done about it? We have five simple suggestions for you as parents who are looking for ways to turn the tide of negative media influence:

Don’t be afraid to be the tough parent. In view of the lack of censorship in our current culture, we need to step up to the plate and play a regulatory role in our children’s lives. Being their parent sometimes means not being their “friend”—at least not right now. If you care about your kids, adopt a Social Media Use Contract like the one described in the social media section. Create a system of accountability and place limitations on media use. Install content filters like Forcefield on everybody’s phone, even yours.

Do the real thing. Counteract creeping confusion between the actual world and the virtual world by getting your kids involved with real life. Take them on walks outside. Play catch or Frisbee. Throw a real football back and forth. Ride bikes and go on hikes. Encourage nondirective, unstructured play in the backyard. Play a real board game with them instead of the digital version. Give them music lessons and provide them with opportunities to participate in outdoor sports. Do anything you can to drag them away from the screen and get them immersed in the wonders of God’s creation.

Talk about it. If you have teenagers, sit down and have an honest discussion with them about the power of visual images. Ask them if they’ve seen images that bother them or make them feel uncomfortable. Talk about why these images are bothersome. Face up to the dangerous siren-call of the internet. Create a dialogue about overdependence on media and its potentially harmful impact on mental health. You can start with questions like these: How do you feel when you’re denied access to your phone? Do you think those feelings are healthy? Why or why not?

Process together. If a child has endured some kind of trauma as a result of exposure to disturbing visual imagery, help him talk it through and process it out. Adopt a nonjudgmental approach and make your home a safe place to communicate. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, you may want to engage the assistance of a professional counselor who has been specially trained to deal with the fallout of traumatic images.

Stay connected. Overexposure to any type of traumatic image is an issue no parent can afford to ignore. Left unattended, the problem can eventually drive young people to think seriously about suicide. As a parent, you don’t have to let things go that far. You may not be able to ban media from your household altogether, but you can head off a tragedy by staying connected with your kids and approaching the subject head-on. Remember, the best way for kids to learn about sex, managing violence, relationships, and the value of life is through conversations with you—not by way of the internet.

Lesson Complete!