Wednesday, 23 August 2017

When No News is Good News.

The Tooth Fairy. Oil on canvas.  Celia Turner.

A little while ago I found myself sitting in the dentist's waiting room. I don't mind visiting the dentist, in fact I actually quite enjoy it, so different is the experience compared to when I was a child. Back then it was such a gruesome affair, brutal even, compared to modern day dentistry   I remember the waiting room of yesteryear, very uncomfortable rickety chairs, peeling paint and pictures of gnarled old trees adorned the walls. My brothers and I would make up stories about those trees, anything to keep our minds from Mr Paddyachy, he of the white coat and cruel intentions.

In the surgery of modern times there are no pictures or peeling paint. On the wall is a flat screen television. Sky News is on all the time. We, the patients, are treated to scenes of utter devastation, tiny babies being pulled from the aftermath of an earthquake, dusty faces and bewildered eyes stare at us from the ruins. We see a shot of a bedroom hanging from the side of a building, the bed has a red bedspread. Old women, bent over, wander amid the debris, headscarves askew, crinkly eyes crying. The scene is eerily silent. It is also silent in the waiting room.
Next on the screen is a big man shouting and pointing at an audience. He waves his arms about, he has weird hair and for some reason seems a bit threatening.
Next up are tanks and soldiers, BOOM and BANG and bodies under blankets.

Then, just like that, we are given the latest sports report. This has always confused me. Why IS sport so important? Why is it on the News? It seems distasteful to end a distressing news report with a downcast description of a lost football match.

The children in the waiting room look uncomfortable but there is nothing for them to do except watch the television.

Figures from the NSPCC's  Childline Service show the number of children and young people looking for help with anxiety has jumped sharply, the report states that there were 11,706 counselling sessions where anxiety was mentioned in 2015-2016,This is an increase of more than a third (35%) on the previous year. The report also states that the problem seems to be getting worse, with provisional figures showing that from April to September the service dealt with an average of more than 1000 cases of anxiety a month. Children as young as eight have called the service to discuss their fears, with girls seven times more likely to contact Childline than boys.
Childline president, Esther Rantzen said children and young people are sometimes upset by world events, " Seeing pictures of crying and bewildered toddlers being pulled from bomb damaged homes upsets all of us," she said. "Often we fail to notice the impact the stories are having on young people."

I can absolutely relate to this; I can remember seeing footage from the Vietnam war when I was a very young child and being really, really upset by it.  'The News' was then deemed to be a 'grown-up' programme and I never dared to break the serious silence my parents kept up when watching it.Therefore I didn't ask what was going on, I simply remained haunted by the terrible pictures I had seen.

We now have 24 hour news channels, often the news is just there,as background noise but it is important that we realise that all this 'news' can be overwhelming and frightening to children. We must try to educate and reassure our young people and to take care that they are not overly exposed to violent and dramatic scenes on an everyday basis and to keep 'news' in context. After all 'The News' rarely exposes its audience to 'good news.'

On my next visit to the dentist I took the painting pictured above, I told him it was a gift for the young people to look at while waiting for their appointments. He told me they have the news to watch and I replied that the news was often too grim for such a young audience. He said it was real life.
If I was a child again I think I'd rather look at a pretty painting than at a screen full of crumpled buildings and sad looking grandparents wandering around in a daze.
Real life can wait.

We'll see if he puts the painting on display. I hope he does.


@artycelia