6 Tips to Ease Anxiety in Your Teen Caused by Tragedies in the Media
In the wake of the recent school shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, it’s hard to know when or how to approach the topic with your teen. When your children are young, it’s easier to shelter them from the horrors of our world. But between social media and school chatter, if the discussion isn’t coming from you then you may not know what exactly they’re hearing and how it is affecting them. Read on to learn tips on how to tackle this incredibly sensitive and challenging topic.
1. Check Your Own Anxiety
How, as parents, can we not worry about the state of our world at times? Of course, when you become a parent worrying is part of the deal, but with the recent tragedies, it’s hard not to stress more than usual when you drop your kids off to school each day or to a movie theater on opening night. It’s challenging not to let those fears get the best of you, but you, as well as your kids need to keep living life.
Try, as hard as it may be, to discuss these topics without increasing fear and anxiety in your child. While it’s important to engage in conversation, be mindful of your words. And remember that when you are speaking with other adults, your kids are listening, even when you think they aren’t.
Dr. Matt Hersh, a clinical psychologist with a focus on mindfulness, reminds us that “it is imperative that we, as parents, acknowledge and process our own emotions too so that we can listen, talk, and problem-solve with our kids with authenticity and openness. From our own emotional awareness and processing, we can then observe and listen carefully to our tweens and teens. We can ask general questions about how they’re feeling and what their fear or anger might look like.”
2. Ask Them What They’ve Heard
Before you dive into the topic, find out what they know. It’s possible that they are a blank slate, or already have an opinion on the matter. Either way, it’s important to address it, says Dr. Kathleen Trainor, a clinical psychologist who focuses on treating anxiety in young people and founder of the TRAINOR Center. “Often when a kid’s only source of information is other kids, what they know can be very distorted. So ask what they know and correct any misinformation they may have. Then ask if they have any questions or concerns.“ Just be sure to address it based on their age and developmental level.
3. Get Back to Normal
In times like these, we want to help our children feel safe. Dr. Hersh recommends moving forward with as much of a normal routine as possible. “It is imperative that we, as parents, practice operating under the assumption that we are ‘ok’ in this very moment rather than expect or worry that something bad or scary is about to happen to any one of us. This sense of ‘ok-ness’ will transmit to your children, just as your panic or worry about their safety will unintentionally be absorbed. “
4. Remind Them Who is Keeping Them Safe
Life is full of tragedies and it can be hard to make sense of them. It’s OK to acknowledge that bad things happen but try to focus on all the good as well. Help them become aware of all the people around them that help to keep them safe—their family, neighbors, police force, teachers, friends and those government officials and activists fighting for positive change.
5. Take Action
One of the most inspiring things that has come out of the horrific tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, has been the rallying cry of the students for change. Dr. Trainor explains how this can be beneficial and empowering: “Older kids can be motivated to get more involved in learning about the causes of such incidents and find ways, large or small, to try to do something to get involved, with others, to try to stop these events in the future.”
In this particular situation at Stoneman Douglas, teens are seeing their peers holding protests, rallies, and petitioning congress to change gun laws. They are witnessing the power of a movement led by people their own age. Dr. Hersh adds, “This type of discussion can help teens feel some degree of empowerment even within a very powerless situation, and it can help parents and teens alike explore deeper values about what it means to be an engaged citizen of the world.”
6. Seek Additional Support if Needed
It’s completely normal to be impacted by these types of events – sadness, anger, and fear are all common responses. However, if some time has passed and your child continues to feel anxious about their safety and/or you notice changes in their behavior, it is beneficial to seek the advice of a professional to help with identifying necessary coping skills.
This is one of those conversations that we wish we didn’t have to have with our children, but unfortunately, for tweens and teens, it’s not something we can sweep under the rug. As parents, the best we can do for our children is to listen, be open and honest about our own feelings, and focus on finding ways to empower them in these unsettling times.
Written by Phase2Parenting
PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.