If you’re worried about watching the inauguration with your kids, you’re not alone

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Wednesday’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden comes two weeks after a mob stormed the United States Capitol clinging to the conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump won November’s election. Five people lost their lives. More recently, federal officials warned of armed and potentially violent protests at all 50 state capitals and the U.S. Capitol in the days leading up to the inauguration, according to an internal FBI bulletin issued to law enforcement partners. 

a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris celebrate their victory in Wilmington, Delaware on Nov. 7, 2020.

© JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris celebrate their victory in Wilmington, Delaware on Nov. 7, 2020.

Out of the fear of exposing their children to violence, some parents are choosing not to watch the inauguration celebration as a family in real-time. Biden will be take his oath at noon EST Wednesday.


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Dr. Alison Escalante, a pediatrician who lives in Naperville, has decided she will not watch the inauguration live with her two sons, ages 11 and 9. Though she describes her children as “little patriots” who “care deeply about democracy,” she plans to watch the festivities live and show her children clips later. She is wary of the effects of children unexpectedly taking in violent images.

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“When someone, especially a vulnerable, younger person witnesses violence and they’re not prepared for it, it can it can really be very frightening and even traumatic,” she says. “We know from research that kids often cannot perceive the difference between television and real life when it comes to witnessing violence, so they can experience a trauma and a stress response to seeing those things, and that’s why it’s really important too to frame it up properly for them.”

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Teri Coday Osborn wanted to watch the inauguration with her grandson, 9 and granddaughter, 5 this month, who live a block away from her in Des Moines, Iowa. Osborn says she was raised by a “super patriotic” family and her uncle received a Purple Heart from World War II; her brother fought in Vietnam. She remembers growing up “when the president addressed the nation, all of us kids were in front of the TV.”

But after seeing the storming on the Capitol, and being struck by images of the National Guard sleeping on the floor of the building, Osborn has decided not to watch the inauguration live with her grandkids. 

“I’m fearful of violence, images of violence,” she says. “… I would expect the networks to break away if there is insurgent activity anywhere in the United States and with threats… I just have no desire to have to worry about them seeing something.” She’ll watch it later with them online, she says. 

Berta Howard, a legal assistant living in Los Angeles, remembers having an awareness of politics while growing up in Bolivia. She thinks watching the inauguration with her sons, 9 and 16, could be meaningful and provide context to what is going on in the world. 

“I remember being my younger son’s age and knowing more about politics and knowing more about what was going on in my country and everything, just because we talked about it around the dinner table,” she says.

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a sign on a pole: Police tape is visible as preparations for the presidential inauguration are made on Jan. 18, 2021.

© TIMOTHY A. CLARY, AFP via Getty Images
Police tape is visible as preparations for the presidential inauguration are made on Jan. 18, 2021.

Dr. Eric Rasmussen, an associate professor at Texas Tech’s College of Media & Communication, believes Wednesday’s inauguration provides an opportunity for kids to see America at work.

“Something like the inauguration of a new president, it’s a hugely significant thing in America and our ongoing history,” he says. “It’s part of what makes America America; (this) transition of power, and I can’t think of a greater opportunity to plant the seeds of civic engagement in our kids than to watch together and talk about a presidential inauguration together.”

That being said he says research has shown kids can be alarmed by certain news topics. “Whether it’s violence, or natural disasters, or pandemic news, research shows that kids feel fear and worry and stress,” he says, “and we’re even starting to see evidence that prolonged exposure to negative news, kind of like we saw in 2020.” He adds “exposure to positive news can result in things like optimism and hope for the future.”

Rasmussen says parents can ease the effects of scary news by ensuring children aren’t watching the content by themselves.

“At a specific level parents, we can describe the behaviors of people that we see in the news and tell kids whether that behavior is good or bad,” he says. “We can talk about how it’s OK to disagree and to voice our opinions that are different, without being disagreeable. I see this as a perfect opportunity to teach our kids that it’s OK to be civic minded and civil at the same time.”

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a group of people in front of a building: The U.S. Capitol is adorned with flags ahead of Wednesday's inaugural ceremony.

The U.S. Capitol is adorned with flags ahead of Wednesday’s inaugural ceremony.

Escalante, the pediatrician, notes: “One of the things that helps when you talk with kids about this kind of stuff is kind of gauging their reaction,” she says. “Because the issue with stress is that when you overwhelm someone, that’s when their adrenaline floods the brain and the stress hormones flood the brain and that’s where you get that real kind of upsetting trauma or stress response. If we can feed it to them gently and engage their response … and make sure they’re not too upset, then we can give them a substantial amount of really adult information but do it in a way that they can handle and process.”

Contributing: Jay Cannon, Chastity Laskey, Jordan Culver, Elinor Aspegren and N’dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: If you’re worried about watching the inauguration with your kids, you’re not alone

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