Talking to your teen about the tragedy in Ukraine.

Smoke was seen rising from the Kyiv district that contains the TV tower and the Babyn Yar memorial (Photo: Twitter/via Jewish News)
Smoke was seen rising from the Kyiv district that contains the TV tower and the Babyn Yar memorial (Photo: Twitter/via Jewish News)

With all the horrific news stories coming out of Ukraine, the world is struggling to deal with the tragedy unfolding in a country with tens of thousands of Jews, as well as the dangerous repercussions that this war could potentially bring to the rest of the world.

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 teenager 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 with an overenthusiastic but well-meaning response.  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.

1. 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 particularly in a completely unprecedented situation like the war in Ukraine, they may find it extremely difficult to articulate what they are feeling.

Many times, I have heard teenagers tell me that their parents start giving advice 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.  With a situation like this one, it may take more time than with more familiar issues to really understand your child’s fears.

Don’t give up if your teenager shuts you out at first. Talking about intimate feelings is difficult for most of us and especially for teens – and especially when they may be  expecting to be brushed off, “stop worrying, it’s the other side of the world”. Try and show your child that you care and are willing to listen without judging. If they are struggling to open up, reassure them that you been happy to have a more detailed conversation when they are ready.

2. Validation

Sometimes a teenager will feel alone and confused.  The reasons for their turmoil may seem trivial to a parent (maybe you have discussed the Ukraine conflict with others to make sense of it yourself) but for a teen, these feelings are real.

At times like this, the challenge as a parent is to convey your unconditional love for them, no matter what the issue is.  They may resist engaging with 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 and “out of the box” 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.  Hysteria in the home (or on calls your kids overhear) is likely to trigger a much stronger adverse reaction than a calm environment.

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 them to set the course, 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, for teenagers to have the best possible emotional health, being surrounded by other caring adults they can trust is so valuable.  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.

7. Jteen

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.

For further information about Jteen, go to www.jteensupport.org.

The Jteen text helpline is open for teens every night from 6pm-12am. The number to text is 07860 058 823

 

 

 

About the Author
Yaakov Barr MSc, PG Dip is a Founder and the CEO of Jteen (a Registered Charity providing mental health support to Jewish teenagers). He is a qualified and accredited Psychotherapist specialising in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. He is also a Clinical supervisor for the BABCP.
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