My 5 year old is very mature for his age. He has an amazing vocabulary and a great attention span. He is very interested in watching the evening news, but often times the news is filled with stories of murder and tragedy. We don't have a problem talking to him about these topics if necessary, but I'm concerned about letting him be exposed too much. What is a good way to handle this situation?
I agree you want to be careful on how much tragedy you expose a 5 year old to, especially considering that the amount of coverage tragedies get on televised news programs far outweighs their frequency of occurrence in reality. You don't want your child to think that every hour there are murders, rapes, and other horrors happening in his neighborhood, nor do you want him to feel fearful of his own safety in his environment.
I presume your 5 year old is interested in watching the evening news because he sees you do it, and I wager that if you shifted your interest his interests would follow. Maybe the next time the news is on you can get up from the couch and say something like, "I think I'd rather go outside and kick the soccer ball around," or whatever, and he'll probably get up and follow you out.
If this is not the case and your child is genuinely drawn to news programs, I'd suggest picking and choosing what news shows he watches. While the PBS News Hour certainly covers world tragedies, including wars, they don't focus on local matters or the type of "if it bleeds it leads" stories that are all to common on local news programs and, to an extent, national nightly news shows.
In the UK there is a programme on the BBC called Newsround, it has been going for decades, which is news specifically aimed and edited for children.
While it can be a little too focused on human interest stories and cuddly animals, it does also try to offer a simplified version of the news.
This would be a great sort of introduction - not just the subject matter, but the phrasing and words used to describe the issues.
When I was growing up, (I'm a baby boomer), I can still remember Dan Rather covering the Viet Nam war while my family and I watched from the dinner table. He was taking gun fire and I was riveted to the TV. This was during a time when there were only 3 network stations, no cable tv, no video games, cell phones, internet etc. This was pretty explicit coverage for the time. I can still remember how it made an impact on me.
My point is that, we didn't see alot of the stuff that children are seeing today. There is alot more coverage of tragedy in the world in my estimation because there is alot more "coverage" i.e. infinitely more media outlets and channels for which it can be delivered
Yes, I'm going to make my point promise. Because of this your child is much more sophisticated than I was, or even you were at his age at filtering all of the information that is coming in. Watching the news with parental or adult supervision can only improve his maturity and understanding of the world we live in.
To be somewhat generic, I think that it really depends on what is covered in your area and how keen a person is to address the topics that are covered. Your approach seems good to me. The only thing that I might add is regular discussion of the topics, even when it doesn't seem necessary... just to get an idea of what he is processing.
I know children who while intelligent, won't talk much about recent happenings without being prompted. I've found that initiating discussion can redirect the "secrecy" - for lack of a better word.