If you are anything like me, current events can be hard—hard to watch, hard to hear, and hard to decipher. In the past, I’ve lightly researched the psychological impacts of staying up to date. A simple Google search comes up with seven scholarly articles and many blogs, as well as media articles. In an article pertinently titled “Is Watching the News Bad for Mental Health?”, Annie Miller, MSW, LCSW-C, LICSW, reported that streaming news can activate our fight-or-flight response from the sympathetic nervous system by releasing the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, which can impact our daily function. The word function automatically alerts my attention as an occupational therapist and homeschool mom.
An OT’s main role is to assist clients in completing the activities or occupations that they need to and want to do. A homeschool parent's main role is to artfully apply science to build each child’s knowledge and understanding of the world. So, considering the possible impact of current events on executive function and balancing that with increasing knowledge had me thinking for many hours to create goals and devise a plan for our own homeschool.
My goals are the following:
To understand events that can impact current decision making
To understand geography and history to have an accurate picture of world events
To provide perspective on our current living situation and opportunities in relationship to other cultures
To foster critical thinking and search for truth from primary sources
I considered these executive function skills and these questions when assessing the possible impact of current events on each of my children:
Response inhibition- Can my child ignore a notification or news story that has shocking headlines? Does my child automatically alert to news stories on the television, even if in the background?
Sustained attention- How long can my child focus on news? Does this change depending on the media type? How long should we search to find primary sources?
Emotional control- Does my child already show signs of stress? Does my child struggle with perspective? Is my child able to decipher danger based on geographic location?
Working memory- Is my child able to retain dates or geographic location within a story to understand its pertinence? Can my child retain the story to guide critical-thinking or decision-making tasks?
Task initiation- If given an article to read, can my child complete the task? Does my child alert to news stories on a screen? Can my child complete the call to action from the story?
Goal-directed persistence- If interested in the topic, will my child research further? Will my child search for corroborating evidence? Will my child persist with a call to action?
Time management- Does my child have time to spend on current events? Is a specific allotment of time for current events needed, or can we “follow a rabbit trail”?
Flexibility of thinking- Can my child recognize that events happening around the world may not pose imminent danger? Can my child consider other points of view within a story?
Organization- Can my child follow a document on the web or newspaper?
Prioritization- Can my child adequately prioritize events as they affect his or her life? Can my child recognize how past events affect current events? Can my child discuss current events and how they may impact decision making?
Metacognition- Can my child recognize when current events are impacting his or her functioning and emotional well-being?
With these outlined goals and answers to the above questions for our family and particular homeschool, we decided to watch a ten-minute news show each day. We are currently utilizing CNN10 with its balance of positive stories and day-to-day events. Then, each week, we locate and read a primary source of one chosen story. In the past few weeks, the story topics have ranged from President Biden’s speech on leaving Afghanistan to lobster diver Michael Packard speaking about when he was briefly in a whale’s mouth. As my children age and grow in their executive functioning skills, we will continue to reevaluate our goals and to make plans for how to best use current events in our homeschooling.