Talking to Teens about the Tragic School Shooting
Middle Earth extends our deepest sympathy to those who lost loved ones in the tragic school shooting in Connecticut on December 14th. As the nation mourns, Americans everywhere are suffering from feelings of insecurity. Because our media is so far-reaching, there is little doubt that your teen has heard about this tragedy from the Internet, friends, school, TV or other venues. Even if they have not mentioned it to you, your teen may feel saddened, or unsettled and wonder if they themselves may be in danger. Although discussing the school shooting is a challenge, it is also very important. Parents and teachers should take the opportunity to have a discussion with teens about tragedies.
- Create an open and supportive environment where teens know they can ask questions. Be available, positive, and open to all subjects. In listening to teens, adults can ease children’s worries by correcting any misunderstandings and confusions and can validate their feelings of sadness. At the same time, it’s best not to force children to talk about things unless, and until, they’re ready. Everyone reacts differently, and if you push your teen to talk, you may create more negative feelings than if you had left them alone. Gauge your child carefully.
- Give teens honest answers and information. It is important for teens to discuss the event freely and express their concerns and views. Let them know that you think their questions and concerns are important and appropriate. Your listening can help them to feel validated and supported. Although you do not need to share every detail of the event, which could increase any fears, you do need to stay honest; children will usually know, or eventually find out, if you’re “making things up,” which may affect their ability to trust you in the future. You can also reassure them by reminding them how exceedingly rare these types of events really are.
- Remember that children tend to personalize situations. For example, they may worry about their own safety and the safety of immediate family members. It will help alleviate fear if you can explain your teen’s school’s security plan, so they feel some level of safety. Kids at this age really want to know “why.” Unfortunately, this is one instance where a parent simply doesn’t have all the answers, and you should admit it. Explain that there are events we cannot predict or control, but they are random and rare.
- Let teens know that lots of people are helping the families affected by the tragedy. Identify ways for your child to help such as sending a card, saying a prayer, or remembering the victims in some way. When they reach out to help others in a time of need, children gain self esteem and a sense of how to respond constructively.
- Tweens and teens learn from watching their parents and teachers. They are very interested in how you respond to world events so monitor your own reactions and conversations. As long as you are not feeling panicked about your child’s safety and can calmly express yourself, then you can tell your teen how you feel about the recent events, which can help them talk about their own feelings as well. It is ok if your child does not want to talk about their thoughts, but encourage them to express themselves in another way, such as writing or drawing.
- Limit your teen’s exposure to media coverage of the event. The repetition of such scenes can be disturbing and confusing.
If you find your child acting more than just a little anxious, or if you feel they are being affected more strongly than they can handle, don’t be afraid to talk to your school counselor, doctor, or a therapist. As parents, teachers and caring adults, we can best help teens cope by listening and responding in an honest, consistent and supportive manner.