I have witnessed what we would call current events throughout my lifetime. The most memorable was 9/11. I remember images of 9/11 so vivid that I can still close my eyes and see them clearly. I can still feel the horror, shock and unknown when I reflect on that. When 9/11 happened, I was an adult and a mom to a young toddler. However, even then, it was difficult to process the emotions and fears that filled my mind. This was me as an adult. More skilled at processing life experiences, more active and secure in my own faith. And, I still struggled to process what was happening.
Imagine being a teenager and seeing images of devastation. Fears and confusion hurled upon a teen as they scroll through social media and see destruction and lives lost. Videos that show more than they should see or even want to see. This is the world our teenagers live in when it comes to access to information. They have it all at their fingertips with few limits. They consume and take in more within moments than their minds and hearts can process at that pace. This is a challenge that young people face.
How much engagement and support teenagers have as they consume news and current events varies by individual. Some have strong support networks that process with them. Others have limited interactions with adults that are willing to help them process these types of things. From a caring adult or parent perspective, we don’t always understand everything ourselves. We don’t always know what our teens are exposed to daily. This creates additional challenges when we try to help them wade through the world around them.
(I acknowledge that not all current events are negative and destructive. The reality is though, that enough are and it indeed impacts our teens.)
A Study on News and Teenagers
You might be wondering, how much teens actually are exposed to news and current events. In a small 2019 study by commonsense.org and surveymonkey.com found the following:
Implications For Us Related To Teens & Current Events
So what does this study tell us? Simply put, it shows us that teens are exposed to current events through social media and YouTube. It shows us that what they are seeing is influenced by the opinions of influencers, celebrities and personalities more than receiving such information through traditional news networks. Further, with access to social media and YouTube 24/7 on cell phones and computers, we don’t have a full picture of how much they are digesting and when. We also don’t know how they process what they consume.
In the past 5 years alone, I have seen an increase in anxiety, depression, frustration and an inability to regulate emotions as I substitute teach in our public school system. I don’t believe it is simply limited to my school system. This is something we are seeing nationwide. Children have more access at an earlier age to technology and social media. For me, it all intersects.
With this shift and change, I need more tools to assist me as I engage with teenagers.
9 Steps to Help Teens Process Current Events
Step 1—Be aware of what is going on in the world around you. Listen to news, visit social media and YouTube to see what your teen is seeing and hearing.
We need to go where our teenagers are at online to fully get a clear picture of what they are exposed to. Ask your teen, connect with other parents and caring adults to share insight. This is really about doing your homework so you know what your teenager might be watching and listening to throughout the week.
Step 2 – Process your own ideas, thoughts, opinions and emotions about current world events and local events so that you can be ready to help your teen.
We need to take time to process our own reactions and feelings to what we see as it relates to current events. This will allow us to be more objective as we engage with our teenagers. It will also allow us to take time to learn more about what we are seeing/hearing. And, when we approach our teenager having processed these things, it will allow us to be ready to help carry any burdens they are experiencing.
Step 3 – Seek out your teen and invite them into a discussion about current events and what they are hearing and seeing.
We don’t want to wait for our teens to come to us because it may not happen. Let your teens know you are willing to listen and talk about current events with them. Tell them you have had your own questions and emotions about things. Create an environment where they feel safe to share with you.
Step 4 – Acknowledge your teen’s thoughts, feelings and concerns.
When you engage with your teenager, it is important to acknowledge their thoughts, feelings and concerns. This is not about teaching or judging. It is simply about listening and validating that you have heard what they said. It doesn’t mean you agree with it, but you respect their right to see things and feel things in the way they do.
Step 5 – When listening to your teen’s questions and concerns, remember it is okay to tell your teen when you don’t understand or know something.
Sometimes we place ourselves in the role of needing to have every answer for our children. In reality, there are times we do not have the answers. And, being honest and telling our teenagers we don’t understand or know something helps to strengthen the trust between you. It gives a more realistic view of how we are still learning and figuring things out as an adult. We are modeling what it looks like to say we don’t know.
Step 6 – Research and find out more information together with your teen if they are asking for answers that you don’t have.
Not knowing something doesn’t mean we have to end our conversation with our teen. Instead, view it as an opportunity to work together with your teen to research, explore and learn together. Make time for your teenager and show up and help them gather information because that is an important part of processing our thoughts, beliefs and feelings.
Step 7 – Share how you are managing or handling your emotions. Talk about how you have leaned into God during this time.
As a parent and caring adult, we have the opportunity to model skills and abilities teenagers are in the process of developing. This includes managing and handling emotions. Talk with your teen about how your process things, what you have learned to do in different situations. And, make sure your share how you invite God into these moments as well. This can provide comfort to teens in knowing you find peace and strength in God.
Step 8 – Create news free spaces and times together with your teen so they can have time to relax and find peace.
For some teenagers, it can be easy to become glued to an issue and become hyper focused on it. This can lead them to worry, increased anxiety and tuning out healthier experiences for them. Be intentional about creating space and time with your teen that leaves current events consumption off limits. Offer alternatives that allows them to escape worry and focus in on peace and joy.
Step 9 – Pray together for understanding, peace and protection.
There will be events and experiences that are difficult for our teenagers to witness and move beyond. That’s why it is important to pray together for understanding, peace and protection. When a teenager feels helpless, prayer can offer comfort and hope. It also models how to trust God in these moments.
Open Those Lines of Communication
As you move forward and employ these 9 steps to help teens process current events, remember to keep the lines of communication open. Check in regularly and allow your teenager to lead. Don’t press them for conversation. Let them know what you are seeing and that you are there for them. Being consistent in showing our care and showing we are available can make a huge difference for them as they process the world around them all while figuring out who they are and who they can become.