Talking to Teens About Tragedy

The recent tragedies in Orlando continue to weigh heavily on my mind. I have to admit that I’m having a hard time processing, feeling safe, and coping with the reality of what’s happened. I suspect that if I’m feeling this way, those younger than me must be even more confused.

Teenagers (and all children) will look to the people they love to see how they react to tragic events. Here are some tips for talking to your teen:

  1. Ask your teen what he or she already knows about the tragedy — and what questions or concerns he or she might have. Let their answers guide your discussion. Tell the truth, but don’t elaborate with details that may frighten them more.
  2. Whether your teen is sad, scared, or angry (or a mix of all of the above), allow them to express themselves. Assure them that showing emotion is ok. It’s a part of life.
  3. Children over the age of 14 are more likely to have strong opinions about the causes, as well as suggestions about how to prevent future tragedies and a desire to help those affected. Encourage these thoughts even if you disagree with the content of what they’re saying.
  4. Reassure your teen of his or her safety.Point out factors that ensure their immediate safety and the safety of the community. You may want to review your family’s plans for responding to a crisis.
  5. Avoid placing blame.If the tragedy was caused by human violence or error, be careful not to blame a cultural, racial or ethnic group, or people who have mental illnesses.
  6. Do something for those affected by the tragedy.Consider ways that you and your child can help victims and their families. You might write thank you notes to first responders, raise money for a specific charity, or plan a vigil or memorial for victims.
  7. If your teen is discouraged about all of the tragedy in the world, remind them of these two things:
    1. There will always be more good guys than bad guys.
    2. Look for the helpers. You will always see people who are helping.

It’s up to us to raise young adults that are caring, responsible, and independent.  We must teach love and acceptance rather than rejection and violence. We have the chance to empower our youth to advocate for what is right and to change the world. In the meantime, keep living life, enjoy the little things, and treat each other with kindness and empathy.

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Natalie Borrell

Natalie Borrell is a school psychologist and academic life coach for high school students. It is her mission to motivate teenagers to discover their potential and to dream big!
Through private coaching sessions and workshops, she teaches teenagers new ways of thinking about their lives and encourages them to push through limiting beliefs that may be holding them back from achieving their goals and dreams.
When she's not working to better the world one teen a time, you can find her on Pinterest, pretending to be a dinosaur with her toddler son, or reading cookbooks word for word like they were novels.

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