Helping Teens Feel Safe in an Unsafe World

The school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was a tragedy beyond measure.  When events like this occur, it shakes the foundation on which all our lives are built.  This is as true for our teenagers as it is for us parents.  Everyone searches for some way to make sense of the awful events of that day, even those of us who live in different towns, cities, and states.  We do this because we need to be able to explain what happened in order to be able to convince ourselves it can never happen to us.  In these difficult times, being able to restore our own sense of safety and security is of the utmost importance and seeking these kinds of answers is one of the ways we do that.  However, even as we seek these answers and explanations for ourselves, we need to be conscientious about how we are communicating about this tragedy with our children.  Here are some tips for how you can help your children through this and other tragic events.

1.     Consider How to Communicate

As we saw with the media coverage in the hours and days after the shooting, confusion, misinformation, and distress are common in the aftermath of tragedy.  If the trained journalists reporting on TV can get things wrong, think of how hard it can be for your teen to decipher fact from fiction and determine truth from sensation.  This is one reason that communicating effectively with your teen is even more important at these times.  Make sure you use age appropriate language and don’t overwhelm your children with information they don’t need or may not know how to deal with.  Stick to the facts, be clear, and keep things simple.

2.     Answer Tough Questions

One of the things everyone wants to know when something terrible happens is why it happened.  Children and teens are no exception.  The search for reason in an unreasonable situation is how we try to make sense of senseless acts.  The challenge for parents is to help their children understand that these things happen for a variety of reasons like mental illness, religious or political fanaticism, or simple hatred without turning any specific group into the “bad guy.”  For example, while some of the people who have been responsible for mass shootings have suffered from mental illnesses, not everyone with a mental illness can or would hurt other people.

3.     Stress Safety

Another of the most common questions we all ask at times like these “is will it happen again” or more importantly, “how can I make sure it never happens to me?”   The truth is, random acts of violence will always happen and there is no way to protect ourselves from each and every eventuality.  People do terrible things and there is no way to ensure it will never happen to you.  Despite this, even teens need to re-establish a sense of security, to find a way to feel safe in their world.  The best way to do this is to focus on ways to make ourselves safer rather than on our inability to control the random acts of others.

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