How to help tween and teenage children make sense of world events

We now can see and hear news continuously as it happens around the globe, and so can our children. So, how can you talk to them about the (often distressing) issues that impact the world around them?

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Conflict, climate change and COVID – the world can seem a sad and distressing place through the eyes of social media. This is draining and overwhelming for adults, and more so for children and young people. How can you help your tween and teenage children to engage with the news they see and hear in a meaningful way?

Children need to experience a carefree life but with balance, and an awareness that unpleasant things happen. The sun doesn’t shine every day – but constant bad news can trigger our anxiety response of flight, fright or freeze. This can leave children and young people feeling like they have to constantly be on guard and prepared for the worst to happen and that the world is unsafe.

What is the most significant influence on how children react to bad news?

Yup, it’s how their parents, carers and guardians react to the news. The way you respond can have a huge impact on their anxieties. Be mindful when you’re talking with other people, when you have the radio on, and of what you’re watching and reading. Your kids are watching you and listening more than you might realise!

  • First and foremost, consider how you are feeling. How is your state of mind regarding what’s happening? If you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious, you can hold off talking until you’ve had a chance to step back. Give yourself time to think about and process what you have just seen or heard.
  • Is this news that they need to know and understand? They certainly don’t need (none of us does) a constant stream of information.
  • Listen to what they are asking and respond accordingly. Don’t give them more information than they’re asking for. 
  • If you don’t know the answer, tell them that you don’t know. You could find out together through reliable news sources or let them know you’ll find out and tell them later.

Us humans are wired to have a negative bias – a tendency to register and dwell on negative over positive information. Teenagers are particularly prone to this which leads to their inclination to ‘doomscroll’. They can get consumed and engrossed in watching the worst happen – almost getting stuck in a negative bias loop.

The more sensitive of them are likely to recognise injustice and hurt. This sensitivity is a gift but also a double-edged sword. While it helps them to be more compassionate, empathetic and understanding, it can be a significant burden at the same time. Help them through the experience of this feeling.

Set a balance between being sensitive enough to care, and being strong enough to know that all those fears and emotions won’t destroy you, but, ultimately will help you grow as a person.

Children and young people need to learn how to handle the bad stuff in life – with our support and remembering that they (and we) won’t do this perfectly. It’s not about burdening young people but recognising that there are challenges out in the world that we need to be able to adapt to. It is possible to look for meaning, purpose and hope.

We can help them see and understand what the world is like (in an age-appropriate way) without letting it defeat them. Help them recognise the pain of the situation, then adapt to it and move through it together.

  • Help them disconnect from devices and the news cycle and get them out into nature – this does them (and us!) so much good.
  • You could decide to watch the news together so that you can discuss what’s happening and give some guidance.
  • Be honest – if they ask what’s happening, give them an age-appropriate answer and, if you don’t know what that is, you can tell them that too and maybe find out together.
  • Remember, there is also good news out there!

We need to be in the present, not to ignore or push away difficult feelings, but to recharge ourselves. There are things we can do together in the here and now that will make a difference to how we’re feeling.

Keep in mind that we are all in this together and we’re all doing the very best we can. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last couple of years it’s that when we do reach out and when we show compassion, we can make a difference.

Remember:

  • Things don’t always go to plan and there will always be hard times for our children to adapt to. We need to teach them to appreciate life’s ups and prepare them for the downs.
  • News and media is available all the time – ask yourself if your child needs to be exposed to it understand. If so, do it in a way that’s age-appropriate.
  • Teenagers can be particularly sensitive to bad news in the media. Work with them to get a realistic picture of what’s happening in the world.
  • Life is unpredictable – challenges will appear that we can influence and change but there are some things that we have no influence over and we cannot change.
  • Gratitude and kindness help build optimism in us and our kids. Remind them that there’s plenty of good news out there so look for it and then share it!

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Peacehaven, East Sussex, BN10
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Written by Jennifer Warwick, BACP Registered Counsellor (Postgrad Dip Counselling)
Peacehaven, East Sussex, BN10

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People who are constantly rushing, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted as a result. I specialise in relationships, family issues and parenting teens and tweens. Contact me for a free initial chat by phone.

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