The recent school shooting in Oxford coupled with threatening social media posts that circulated immediately after the shooting impacted many local schools, students and their parents. Understandably these events can heighten anxiety in adolescent children who are already dealing with the dramatic changes and uncertainty brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many parents are faced with difficult discussions around real life events that could also be anxiety provoking and stressful for them as well. However, an open discussion about their specific fears or concerns is best. Perhaps, they are experiencing sadness over the tragic loss, confusion over how this could happen or fear it will happen at their school. Teenagers, as opposed to younger children, are likely to have the skills to give voice to their feelings and fears. The most important thing a parent or any adult can do is listen attentively and validate their feelings. There’s a place for reassuring your child about their safety and precautions put in place but fully listen to their concerns first.
It is ok to check in with your teen to see how they are managing but constant questioning will typically shut a teenager down. Their thoughts and feelings may come out gradually. Its okay. Just be available.
Teenagers may have strong feelings on topics related to school shootings, such as mental health care, gun control or the justice system. Listen to their opinions, even if they differ from yours, ask questions about why they think that way. Showing an interest in your child’s opinion does not mean you agree with them, it just demonstrates that you are interested in them and recognize them as a separate individual. Your goal right now is to help them through this experience.
Make yourself available to spend time with your teen. Invite them to help in Holiday preparations, play a family board game or run and errand. Believe it or not research shows most teens want more time with their parents, not less. This time can be reassuring and provide a sense of safety and may give more opportunity to discussion. Many teens who aren’t comfortable talking face to face may open up when involved in an activity.
Turn off the news
Reduce exposure to negative news cycles on television and online. This is especially true if they will be spending time alone if there are school cancelations. Try to help them structure their day so they are not bombarded with fear provoking stories. You can also introduce or remind your teen of anxiety reducing techniques such as breathing exercises.
When to seek help
Most people including teens and children are resilient. Those not directly impacted will likely return to normal activities and emotional status in short order. However, parents should be alert to any signs of indicating your teen is struggling. This could include, excessive worry, change in academic performance, change in peer relationships, nightmares, refusing to go to school, nightmares, headaches or loss of interest in their normal activities. If these signs are present it would not consult to reach out to a professional for assistance.
If you think your teen could benefit from speaking to a mental health professional around this or any other mental health issue please contact us.
New Perspective Counseling is a group practice dedicated to emotional wellness and healing. Our caring therapists provide psychotherapy, individual counseling, marriage counseling and family counseling in our Highland, Michigan office. We are located conveniently near Milford, White Lake, Commerce Township, Holly, Hartland and Brighton, Michigan.