Päivi Anttikoski Column: Don’t Change The Channel for Children

Päivi Anttikoski is a journalist, broadcaster, media industry survivor and working mother. She juggles soccer practice and school runs with consulting work.

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”There has been a massive explosion at the city centre! But the Prime Minister is safe!”

I could hear the loud noise through my thoughts. I think I was writing some nonsense or maybe spending time at Facebook. Stood up, went to our living room and saw the crime scene.

There were Lego Duplo bricks everywhere. A tall Lego skyscraper had crashed, Duplo firemen were already at the scene, so were police and a couple of ambulances. It was June 2011, and a few days earlier mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik (nowadays Fjotolf Hansen) had committed those horrible terror attacks, first bombing central Oslo and then opened fire at Utøya island and left 77 dead.

When that happened, we were celebrating my brother’s birthday at their garden. When we read the news pieces and were horrified over the events that unfolded, I didn’t even think that my then three-year old son was playing nearby with his cousins. I guess I thought they did not hear us.

Did he suffer nightmares or some anxiety? Luckily not. Did we ban all the TV-news from him since then? Nope.

Is it then okay to let your kid watch or read the news? Many parents seem to protect their children from news. Just a couple of years ago one Finnish MP even wanted to set age limits to news, so that children wouldn’t see any violence. I am pretty happy she did not succeed.

Think about it – do you really believe you can close your child off from the world? They live in the same world that we do, and in my opinion you just leave them unsure and confused if you pretend that bad things don’t happen in this world.

Shhhh! They have their mobiles, and for example every single 3rd grader I know gets different notifications in their phone, mostly from Ilta-Sanomat. Wouldn’t it be better to talk with them about the news, than shut their ears and eyes?

Many media houses around the Europe have their own, special news for kids. I often wondered how we don’t have any here? As well as talking about what’s happening in the world, it is also important to explain things for kids according to their age. In their own way, so to say.

I worked before as an Editor-in Chief of Helsingin Sanomat, and there I was able to create Lasten Uutiset for children aged 6-12 years. That started around two years ago and they are still running. The only thing I am wondering is why didn’t anyone do that before here in Finland?

Those Lasten Uutiset news bulletins – and the website – have become very important and popular in many schools and families, and I’m so happy about that still.

And so happy that we have Finnish YouTube stars like Roni Back, who has more than 280,000 followers (that’s huge in this country with 5.4 million inhabitants) fans to whom he explains random news every week.

How is my 3rd grader then doing, since he started to watch the news at age three?

He is interested in things like what kind of person is Donald Trump? Why is North Korea threatening the rest world? He knows why we don’t spend any holidays in Turkey anymore.

He knows ISIS, what terrorists are trying to achieve. And much more. Yet he is not frightened, and that is because he understands. Me and his father don’t leave him alone with things that worry him.

We talk, we answer his questions and explain. And oh yes, it takes an awful lot of time because you know how much kids like to ask ‘but why…?’ questions! But I enjoy it, it is not a duty.

Maybe it should be, because sometimes it feels that we Finnish parents leave too many obligations to school. Luckily the new OPS strategy for learning in Finnish schools has underlined the importance of media literacy. But I find it important at home too.

Because we all know that this is the most important place to give the best possible basis of understanding to your child.

Because we do all live in the same world.