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Short- and long-term influences of COVID-19 news on children


Ming Ebbinkhuijsen, Rebecca de Leeuw, Mariska Kleemans, Moniek Buijzen


The COVID-19 virus has a big impact on the lives of children. For example, schools have been closed for a while in the Netherlands, children might have lost (grand)parents, have parents working in health care or have parents who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Producers of children’s news noticed a huge increase in audience ratings in the beginning of the Corona crisis and received countless questions from children who experienced negative emotions or were unable to deal with this situation. Therefore, we initiated a longitudinal study on children’s emotions and coping strategies regarding COVID-19 news. To understand what children go through, it is important to know what the impact of news about this situation is on children, so that parents, teachers, news organizations and others involved in children’s daily lives can respond accurately.

News consumption in childhood is an important predictor of news consumption later in life (Huang, 2009), and is part of the socialization process of children into active and critical citizens in society (Alon-Tirosh & Lemish, 2014; Van Deth, Abendschön, & Vollmar, 2011). Following the news is thus important, but we know from previous research that negative news can have a negative influence on children's emotional responses (e.g., Walma van der Molen, Valkenburg & Peeters, 2002). Scholars suggest that it may, eventually, lead to news avoidance. However, we do not know how children react to such crucial news, which probably highly impacts children's lives. This gives rise to concerns about children's coping abilities with COVID-19 news and whether they might avoid the news. Therefore, the aim of this longitudinal survey-research is to investigate how COVID-19 news influences children in grades 4, 5 and 6 (aged 8-13) of primary school (cohort 2019-2020 and 2020-2021).

Children who participate in this study will be followed for a longer period of time, by filling out questionnaires every two months. Dependent of the developments regarding COVID-19, this will be between half a year and 3 years. We want to keep following the children a little while longer once the crisis is over, in order to look at the long-term influences. By following children a longer period of time, we can investigate what the short- and long-term influences are of COVID-19 on children's news use and general media use, their emotions and coping strategies, social-emotional influences, prosocial behavior, fear responses toward the news and news avoidance.

This project consists of various studies, which address three main topics. The first topic focuses on emotions and emotional responses, coping strategies and news avoidance related to COVID-19 news consumption. The second topic focuses on the relation between COVID-19 news consumption and prosocial behavior. The third topic that focuses on whether parasocial interaction with the researcher (by adding vlogs, GIFS etc.) and liking of a study (by adding short clips and GIFs) influences whether children will keep participating in a longitudinal survey.

Contact information

Ming Ebbinkhuijsen, ming.ebbinkhuijsen@ru.nl