January 15, 2005

ARTICLES: Barrage of images might have lasting effect

By JEN HORSEY

TORONTO (CP) - Television, radio, websites and newspapers are all telling the same horrifying story: a giant wave swept in from the sea and sucked away thousands upon thousands of lives.

It's big news around the world and there is non-stop Media coverage. The stories, along with graphic and sometimes gruesome images, may be intended for adults but kids are seeing them too, leading some to worry that the tsunami could leave a different kind of turmoil in its wake.

"I saw pictures of all the dead bodies and things on the news and it scares me," said Anya Gregory, 14. "It scares me because so many people died because of the water."

Destruction on such a large scale can be a lot for a teenager to take.

"Teenagers tend to have very strong reactions," said Ellen Jaffe, a child psychotherapist from Oakville, Ont. "It's very shocking to see this over and over again."

It is a situation reminiscent of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, where images of devastation saturated daily life to such an extent that they became inescapable and, some suggest, life-changing.

"This will be a formative event for many young people in the way that Kennedy's death was for a generation previously," said Dr. Jonathan Rose, an associate professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. "It will be important, arguably, in shaping values and causing them to rethink certain things."

Many people are now talking about a feeling of emotional exhaustion, saying that repeated exposure to the story has made them numb to the reality of the situation.

"I'm worried that this could be an example of 'compassion fatigue' where, six months from now, this could fade into oblivion," said Rose, who teaches a course on politics and the media.

Depending on the individual, responses could fall within a wide range, said Jaffe. Those who have had a troubled past will be more likely to find themselves struggling with post-tsunami anxiety or fears.

She said some might even find themselves compelled to take in every detail they can about the event - an unhealthy morbid fascination that they might look to the Internet to satisfy.

"The heinousness of seeing these images on a computer in your room cannot be underestimated because computers are so visually powerful," said Rose.

He said it could also have the effect of making future tragedies seem less significant when compared to this massive one.

But the outpouring of aid that has followed this disaster gives many hope that the effect won't be one of psychological harm, but rather personal growth.

Across Canada, young people are dipping into their own pockets to contribute to international aid efforts. Rose and Jaffe both predict it could spur a new generation of humanitarians. "I think it may be a mobilization for action," said Rose. "I think that could really facilitate some positive social action."

Media literacy advocate Linda Millar said parents, educators and peers all have a role to play in helping young people make sense of the catastrophe.

"The important thing - and this is what I said after 9/11, too - is to help them understand that the world is safe enough to go on living life," said Millar, a vice-president with the Ottawa media-literacy group Concerned Children's Advertisers.

A former teacher with 33 years of experience teaching kids from primary school to Grade 9, Millar said she has been hearing from plenty of concerned young people.

She has told them that conversation is important because parents and kids need to discuss whatever feelings arise.

She also suggested some other options than cash donations: writing a letter to the newspaper expressing compassion for the victims, perhaps, or calling a charity to see whether there are any volunteer openings.

One way for teens with younger siblings to help would be to talk to them. Millar explained that since kids younger than 11 years old aren't capable of thinking in abstract terms, some may believe that every time they see the tsunami on television it is happening again in real time.

But ultimately, those dealing with Media overload in the face of this disaster should do what they can while ultimately keeping it in perspective, said Millar.

"It has not changed their own lives on a daily basis significantly. What it's done is change their perception of the world."

SOURCE: http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/World/2005/01/13/897384-cp.html

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Chris Schuepp
Young People's Media Network - Coordinator
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