Following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last month our kids were inundated with images of the disaster on a daily (hourly!) basis as my wife and I followed the rescue efforts and meltdown of the nuclear power plant on the TV news. It did not help that schools were closed and the kids were home all day. In retrospect, we should have had the discipline to turn the TV off as we would have been able to catch up on any important issues in the evening when they had gone to bed. We did however make sure to talk with them about what was happening. The conversations I had with my 10 year old son about what was going on were surprisingly mature and made me realize that there was also a positive side to exposing him to what was going on in the world.
Expanding our children's vocabulary is an excellent reason to watch the news with them. When writing a resume or participating in an interview, it is always better to know a few extra words, their meanings and usage. While you are watching, let your kids know that they can ask you about words they do not understand. Watching the news with your kids does not mean just sitting there with them. If they ask you in the middle of a report what the word "expedite" means, don't tell them to shush and wait, explain it to them when they ask (look it up if you need to). If you want to watch the news in peace then do it when the kids are not around. In order to get the benefits of watching the news without the negatives it is critical that it be an interactive process between the kids and parents. Along with vocabulary, the speaking skills (enunciation, pronunciation, inflection) of the newscasters are very good examples for children to copy.
Children can pick up presentation skills from watching the sharp dressing, smooth talking newscasters. They typically dress conservatively and well, they have good posture when sitting or standing and even occasionally smile. These are all attributes that a child may emulate after watching and will help them to make a better impression in a job interview.
An expanded view and understanding of the world will come naturally if you watch more than just the local news with your son or daughter. We keep a globe in our living room and whenever a country is mentioned, the kids can look for it on the globe to find out where it is in relation to us. The globe is an electronic one from LeapFrog so they can also hear music and other trivia about the country once the find it. Often searching for the country on the globe leads to a more active discussion of the related news topic. If we treat our kids with respect during the conversation by listening to their thoughts and replying seriously to even silly or obvious questions our children will feel more confident about discussing their thoughts and opinions with others. An important skill in an interview and life.
Make sure that your kids understand that what they are watching on TV is not going to happen to them and that they are safe. Images of war and disasters can be scary and although it may be happening half way around the world, it will seem a lot closer to a 9 year old.
Point out the heroes. Many shows focus on the criminal or the disaster or the terrorist. Point out the police officer or the fireman on the screen (even if they are only standing in the background) and explain how they are helping to make the world a safer place.
Every child is different and matures at a different speed than their peers. Each parent should make their own decision about when to start watching with their kids and how much is acceptable. I would recommend against allowing younger children to watch by themselves. The news on TV is almost always sensationalist and if left to watch on their own, kids can develop an image of the world as violent and disaster prone. Watching the same content and discussing it with your kids afterwards will result in a more balanced understanding of what they are seeing and of the world around them.