Blog: The Educated Reporter

Boston Marathon Bombings: Talking to Children After Trauma

Students in Boston — and many of the surrounding suburbs – return to class this week after spring vacation, and school officials plan to have additional counselors on hand to talk with kids who might be struggling emotionally in the wake of last week’s bombings.

“We don’t quite know the connections that students and staff have to the events,” Lee McGuire, spokesman for Boston’s public schools, told the Boston Globe. “It will be good to have students back in class this week, but it will be important to have the right staff in place.”

Shortly after the April 15 attack at the Boston Marathon, the school district put together a valuable resource page to help parents, and Superintendent Carol Johnson sent a memo home to families. In it, she urged parents to limit students’ exposure to media coverage on television and online, and limiting discussion to “age-appropriate terms.”

Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss also put out a helpful checklist which sadly, as she pointed out, she has shared three times in 18 months  – the first being the Tucson, Ariz. shootings that left nine dead, and then again after the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. I like Strauss’ list because it’s proactive — highlighting ways students can share the responsibility for keeping schools safe, and reminding parents to make sure their kids know who to turn to on campus in times of trouble.

For education reporters, talking to students after a violent incident can difficult terrain to traverse. If you’re looking for guidance you can catch a replay of our recent webinar. The presenters were Sarah Carr, author of EWA’s new Reporter’s Guide to Interviewing Children, along with Columbia Journalism School Professor LynNell Hancock, who discuss ethical guidelines for talking with children in sensitive situations such as cases of trauma or abuse. Additionally, Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma at Columbia University, offered practical suggestions for reporters to consider before, during, and after interviewing kids. For more on school climate and safety, check out EWA’s Story Starters online resource.