Teens today are growing up in a very different world than their parents did.
Our culture is becoming increasingly violent, with tragedies like the Newtown elementary school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing seizing national attention with troubling frequency.
At the same time, instant access to worldwide news through the Internet and social media also makes teens more hyperaware of crises here at home, and on distant shores. There may not be more earthquakes, wildfires and natural disasters than there were in the past, but because of the new media culture, we now know about every single one.
Many teens are troubled by these events ― others may actually be traumatized by tragic stories they hear on the news, even if they don’t impact them directly.
While there is no “silver lining” to these tragic events, each situation provides an opportunity to communicate with your teen about their concerns, and opens the door for many important dialogues.
First, it gives parents the chance to have a practical discussion about issues of safety. Brainstorm with your teen how you might have handled the situation, and what they could do to protect themselves in a worst-case scenario. Not only will it help them process their fears, each conversation prepares them a little bit more for the next unexpected experience.
More importantly, conversations about troubling world events provide the chance for you to listen to your teen. This is not the time to lecture ― instead, ask your teen questions about her feelings and her concerns related to the tragedy. Active listening and a few pointed questions can often help uncover the root of her distress. Is she worried about a similar tragedy happening to her? Or does she have broader, more philosophical concerns about the state of the world and her place in it? You may not be able to solve the problem at the root of her concerns, but by providing a sounding board, you offer comfort and perspective.
Teenagers’ reactions to the world can be extremely intense. Some may become enraged or tearful – while others may internalize their feelings and withdraw. Parents should be alert for signs of displaced anger or uncharacteristic sadness that could indicate their teen is struggling with larger concerns related to a tragedy. Many schools provide access to counseling services that can help ― but if you notice a continued pattern of changing behavior, consider seeking additional help through a psychologist or even your family physician.
Tragedy also provides an ideal time to refocus on faith. Your church community provides a perfect support structure in times of strife ― whether the tragedy is personal, or not. In times of crisis, youth groups or pastoral staff can provide an age-appropriate forum to discuss concerns and fears with other teens, and a message of faith that offers solace, if not answers. In addition, the church also provides a place to congregate and be together with others who have been touched by tragedy. This community of support can be extremely beneficial to your teen, even if she chooses not to share her feelings directly.
Another coping skill is to find a way to give back in a positive way. If your child was disturbed by the Boston Marathon bombing, for example, encourage her to raise money for a charity to support the victims. If news of the devastating Western wildfires is keeping her up at night, help her collect canned goods and household supplies to send to families who lost their homes.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to tell your teen you love her. Times of tragedy give us permission to do that, and a reminder that life is precious, with a path that is often unexpected.
To learn more about how to talk to your teen about tragedy, contact Compass Rose Academy today.