“Miss, tell me something good!”
Pick up a newspaper or access the news via social media, TV or radio and there doesn’t seem to be much positive going on.
There are blogs, articles and stories galore about people hurting each other or people harming the environment or the environment harming us so it is little wonder children get scared. We seem to be drowning in war, violence and natural disasters.
Then there are news stories that seem to run and run like Forrest Gump. These are never off the front page and they might not necessarily be tragic or traumatic but are just dreary and lacklustre.
Brexit is important but it is politics at its driest with little to excite anyone but it dominates at the expense of hundreds of other events and experiences that are worth getting excited about.
Good news doesn’t get the same attention as bad news yet there is good news happening all the time pretty much everywhere.
Young children live completely in the environment in which they live and do not seriously conceive of there being any other. Their contact with the news can be extremely limited as their world is very much their own.
Yet as children get older they see and hear things that make them aware that there is ‘stuff’ going on around them and their world view starts to expand. This world view though is often traumatic, misrepresentative and overdramatic.
The power of the media in shaping our world views is huge as organisations select what is news and what isn’t. Children need to know this.
They need to know that ‘the news’ is something we are given and served and there are thousands of things that never get reported or make the headlines.
They also need to know that they can make the news, shape the news and challenge what is deemed as newsworthy.
We don’t have a newspaper called ‘Good News’ or ‘Just Great News’ but wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a newspaper and website devoted to not just all the good news out there but the unusual, weird, wonderful and interesting?
Amazing scientific discoveries are being made that dramatically save lives and change humanity, yet remarkably they are often ignored or buried in the fast food news of the day or the stubborn news stories that are stuck in the system and refuse to budge or give way.
Take CAR-T cell therapy as an example. This is a type of treatment in which a patient’s T cells (a type of immune system cell) are changed in the laboratory so they will attack cancer cells as a living drug.
After several decades of painstaking research, the most exciting advance in treatment for childhood leukaemia is big news and should be celebrated but it didn’t get on the front page. How could this be a non-event?
Of course, there needs to be a balanced diet of news so children don’t grow up with rose-tinted glasses on but there is a desperate need for pipelines of good and great news to enter the system to enrich and inspire everyone.
Children need to know that the mainstream media are failing us because what’s happening in society isn’t being broadcast fairly or with balance good news stories are not in short supply but their reporting of it is.
Being hit with a constant stream of negativity can lead children to see the world in very distorted and twisted ways. Let’s not forget the fake news, misinformation, sensationalised headlines, inaccurate reporting and craving for drama. The news we get is a box of damaged goods and misconceptions.
Steven Pinker says that prolonged exposure to negative news can ‘miscalibrate people’ meaning they have an unreasonable sense about the probability of airline crashes or of terrorists taking over. Bad news can make you glum and worry more crime, even when rates are falling.
The power of good news can be uplifting and engaging. We need the feel-good stories for our mental health and wellbeing.
In mainstream TV news good news tends to be a bolt-on, an added extra and something to stick in the ‘..and finally’ section of a programme. 29 minutes of the bad and boring stuff and 60 secs of good isn’t balanced broadcasting though.
Fortunately there are news sources that do achieve a balance and cover positive, quirky and feel-good news items. Picture News often features an array of optimistic and great news stories that can get missed and it is these stories that can then prompt children to see the news in more positive ways.
Children need a diet of hope not devastation and we can help by providing opportunities for them to research and find stories that celebrate humanity and achievements. We also need to promote what public health expert Hans Rosling calls ‘factfulness’ as a source of mental peace.
Seeing the world factfully and positively is within our grasp and as classroom practitioners we are well placed to ensure that there is balance so we can support children develop healthy news mindsets.
By being more constructive and getting more positive back into the system we can help children see there is an upside which spreads hope.
This is precisely what The Guardian are doing by deliberately seeking out the good things happening in the world. Their Upside series is going to be part of a Google experiment to spread good news via its voice assistant.
Solutions journalism like this isn’t just good news, it is great news and it’s the daily dose we all need.