The email from the Texas mother began innocently enough: “My daughter has enjoyed reading News-O-Matic for a few months now and I was initially quite pleased with it too.” But the word “initially” foretold a larger concern. “No matter how you might edit a news story about Ebola, I don’t want my young daughter reading about it,” the concerned parent explained.
“Yes, there is bad stuff in the world. But I don’t think kids should have to sort it out when they are so young,” she added. “I just don’t think you can really claim to be appropriate for kids with stories about Ebola,” she concluded pointedly.
The News-O-Matic staff convened to discuss and react to this impassioned feedback. Are we taking the right approach by writing about Ebola? What could we be doing differently? Is there any way to appease this customer? We began as we often do when dealing with sensitive topics: We call in our on-staff child psychologist, Dr. Phyllis Ohr.
Are Ebola stories appropriate for kids?
Together we crafted a response that we believed would justify why we included the topic of Ebola in our September 9 and September 16 editions. We explained that children would hear about Ebola through other avenues, and our article could appease some of their concerns. Besides, we countered, our articles highlighted the helpers — the men and women traveling to West Africa to provide assistance. The WHO was involved, and Obama was reassuring the American public.
Alas, the heartfelt retort was met with silence. It was to be expected, I suppose. Still, we held strong in our convictions, unwavering in our mission to educate the planet’s children — and calm their anxieties with facts instead of misinformation. Days later, Ebola spread to America’s shores, and we continued writing stories about it. Finally, the mom came back to us.
It turns out that the mother was planning a trip to Dallas for the State Fair. As she prepared to city where Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan first carried Ebola to the United States, she knew she had no choice but to sit down with her 10-year-old daughter. “I didn’t want to tell her, of course,” she admitted. “But I didn’t want to NOT tell her either and have her learn about it in another way.”
Facts instead of misinformation
“We read the Ebola Facts article in today’s edition [October 9] together this evening,” she wrote. A family sat down and read our Ebola story to give them a starting point for the conversation. The mother admitted she had her own “personal anxieties” with Ebola and was scared to address the subject with her own child. But News-O-Matic gave her the tool to communicate with her daughter about what was happening.
The pair of customer service emails confirmed exactly what we’ve been working so hard for. It validated every tough decision we’ve ever made — and inspired us to amplify our efforts to help children better understand their world. They deserve nothing less.
By Russell Kahn