With all the horrific news stories coming out of Ukraine, the world is struggling to deal with the tragedy unfolding in a country with thousands of Jews, as well as the dangerous repercussions that this war could potentially bring.
When a young child is worried or feeling sad, it doesn’t usually take much to make them feel better. Yet, when it is a teenage child feeling the same way, it is unlikely to be as simple. Parents often feel powerless when dealing with a worried or unhappy teen. Too often, they feel that the correct way is to either withdraw from their teenagers’ issues or completely invade their private space. In reality the influence and appropriate involvement of parents is crucial in helping a teenager navigate the challenging situations which they encounter.
Here are some ways talking can help your teen cope with the current events.
- Quality talking.
If you suspect that your teenager is anxious, or perhaps you are concerned by some behaviours and emotions they are displaying, then in a loving and non-judgmental way, share your concerns with your teenager. Let him/her know what you’ve noticed and why it concerns you. Then encourage your child to share what he/she is going through.
Teenagers will often be reluctant to open up. They may be ashamed and afraid of being misunderstood and may find it extremely difficult to express in language what they are feeling. Many times, I have heard teenagers tell me that their parents start giving advice and criticism as soon as they start sharing their feelings. So, try to hold back from asking lots of questions and making it feel like an interrogation, and instead make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever emotional support they need.
Don’t give up if your adolescent shuts you out at first. Talking about negative feelings is difficult for most of us and especially for teens. Try and show your child that you care and are willing to listen. If they respond that nothing is wrong, then perhaps monitor him/her for a few more days and if concerned then be willing to have another conversation.
Sometimes a teenager will feel alone and confused. The reasons for their turmoil may seem trivial to a parent, but for a teen, these feelings are real. At moments like this, the challenge as a parent is to convey your unconditional love for them, no matter what the issue is. They may resist you at first, because they are uncomfortable or because they feel they are burdening you, but reassure them of your unconditional love and listen as much as possible. Of course, the stronger your ‘everyday’ relationship with your teen is, the easier it is to deal with the more testing issues that occur.
3. Try to mirror calm and stability
Try to seem calm even if you don’t feel it. Our children are looking to us for how we respond to disturbing news stories. It’s ok if we don’t have all the answers and although we might not feel it inside, children should see parents acting confidently. Try keep the daily routine going and deliberately steer conversations at times to other topics other then the ongoing conflict.
4. Understand their fear
As parents, we tend to assume that our children are worried about the same things we are, but often they are not. When they raise their concerns be curious and try to understand what’s truly worrying them. For instance, if your child asks a question like “Is this World War III?”, you could ask: “What do you mean by that?” Or “What specifically is scaring you about the conflict?”
5. Don’t bring it up if your teen seems uninterested.
Some children will be fascinated by the Ukraine conflict and will want to know more, but others may show no interest at all – and that’s fine. Some parents feel that their children should be fully aware of current events, whilst others will shield them as much as they can. When it comes to teenagers, we should leave it up to their own preference, but if they do want to know more than its vital that we are honest in describing the situation.
6. Support other positive relationships.
For many reasons, parents may not be the people in whom a teenager will confide in when problems arise. Therefore, the importance for a teenager to be exposed to other caring adults they can trust cannot be overemphasised. If your teen is struggling with what is going on in the world then encourage them to reach out to someone they feel comfortable with, a teacher, mentor, family friend etc.
Sometimes adolescents will not want to expose their feelings to any people they know. The fear of being judged is too great. Encourage them to contact Jteen- an anonymous and confidential text helpline where volunteer counsellors and therapists will help your teen process their difficult thoughts and emotions. The number to text is 07860 058 823
8. Seeking help
It’s essential to seek professional help if your teen is showing some of the signs and symptoms of trauma, anxiety or depression. Depending on the available resources and how long it takes to set up an initial appointment, schedule an assessment for your teen with a GP or mental health professional who specialise in helping teenagers.
Yaakov Barr is a psychotherapist specialising in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, clinical director and founder of Jteen.
For further information about Jteen, go to www.jteensupport.org.
The Jteen text helpline is open for teens every night from 6-12. The number to text is
07860 058 823