War, terror on TV
may give kids problems

By Helen Altonn

Children with physical symptoms, such as head- or stomachaches and changes in eating or sleeping, may be suffering from exposure to the news coverage of the Iraq war and terrorism.

Parents and teachers should look for those warning signs and take steps to help the children, said Dr. Alfred Arensdorf, with the state Health Department's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division.

Kids may have relatives who are deployed, which raises questions about whether they are safe, if the war is going to spread and if there is any danger here, said Arensdorf, noting one of his nephews is in Kuwait.

The younger the children, the more likely they are to deny what is happening or think "like everything on TV, it isn't real," he said. Or they may see their parents' reaction and "be very reality-based and frightened," he added.

"The strategy for parents and teachers is to be real factual and realistic but calm. They should try to help the child see this is an unfortunate situation in the world, and there are some bad people and we have to protect the world from bad people."

Use words and terms a child can understand, Arensdorf advises.

A project involving children also helps, he said, noting a seventh-grade teacher at St. Anthony High School on Maui organized her students to put together small care packages for troops.

She found out from the military what was permitted, and the students put small items in the packages such as sunscreen lip balm, dried fish and typical Hawaiian snacks, he said.

Adults should encourage children to feel sorry for those who have lost everything and must rebuild the country and their lives, Arensdorf said. "I think kids respond to that in a big way."

Without guidance, he said, terror, war and destruction may feed into fantasies, particularly of boys, about being soldiers in a violent way. "We want practical responses that correct wrongs."

As for watching war news on television, Arensdorf said he feels generally that it is difficult to keep kids 10 and older away from it. But parents should limit watching the news to twice a day, he said, "and don't have it on constantly."

He said it is better not to dwell on the potential threats, but children will be curious and their curiosity must be satisfied or it will keep building.

This is where a project is valuable because it gives them something to do and a sense of fulfillment and control, which reduces anxiety about what they see on TV, he said.

Arensdorf has three daughters and two sons. Two daughters are teachers and counselors on Maui, where he lives.

He commutes to Honolulu and supervises and consults with people on Maui and the Big Island. He works with teams of psychiatrists and psychologists who work with kids.

A similar but more exaggerated reaction occurred among children after Sept. 11, 2001, he said.

At that time, some teachers left the TV on constantly in their classroom, which "fed into both the kids' and parents' anxieties," he said. "We had several parents call, asking if schools were doing the right thing."

The advice was to satisfy the children's curiosity with a couple of newscasts a day and have some discussion, he said, "but life does go on and they have other things in school to learn."

Hawaii military links and information

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