Talking with Your Teens After Tragedies

There has been a lot of coverage and discussion around shootings and tragic events recently. The shooting in Parkland has hit home for many families and is prompting discussions and questions from adults and teens alike.

Many parents are unsure of how to navigate these potentially loaded conversations. Teens are developmentally tasked with figuring out their identities, and a part of that process is making sense of how they fit in to the world around them. Because they are in this stage of life, as they process an event like the Parkland shooting, they will likely be questioning what their role is, how they can make sense of tragedies such as this, and what this tells them about how to view the world.

As their parent, you have a unique opportunity to join with them in this exploration and connect with your teen to remind them that they are not alone in questioning and mourning.

There are a few things to keep in mind as you embark on difficult conversations such as this one.

  • Pick the Moment – Choose when you have plenty of time; not 20 minutes prior to walking out the door, and when there is space to process and decompress afterward.  Recognize that some teens will need time to think and then want to come back to the topic- allow them to process at their own rate and leave the door open for later conversations.
  • Take News Breaks – Recognize that when traumatic events happen, the 24-hour news cycle can result in an overload of information and emotion o It may be necessary for both you and your teen to disengage from coverage periodically to regain a sense of balance.
  • Think it Through Beforehand – Try to understand your own reactions before engaging in this discussion. You may be surprised by what this brings up for you, and awareness of your own feelings will make it easier for you to stay engaged and avoid projecting your feelings onto your teen.
While your teen is learning to think more like an adult, they are still developing and still need you to be a “safe haven”. Remember that while openness is important, they will still need some reassurance and to feel like home and you are a safe place for them.
  • Be Honest – Your teen will be able to tell if you are being authentic or feeding them a “line”.  Allow yourself to be honest when you don’t have the answers and share some of your own processing, as it seems appropriate.  Use reflective listening- try to really understand what they are thinking and how they got there before jumping to fix or reassure.
Use this opportunity to share about your own values, spirituality, or worldview, but don’t expect your teen to immediately agree- leave them room to consider and start to draw their own conclusions.

Every family reacts differently when faced with traumatic events. Opening a dialogue about recent events could result in a better understanding and a closer connection for your family.


Molly Halbrooks, LMFT

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