I am just back from a three generation family vacation, five grandsons ages 6-11, and I had a front row seat watching the boys sing rap songs, climb mountains, tease each other. No little guys anymore. With the older ones almost as tall as I am, and knowing the vulnerability that comes with adolescence, I have concerns. How do we keep growing kids emotionally safe as they become interested in the world around them, especially when the news reports regularly cover mass murders, war casualties, and terror alerts?
Studies show that close to 4% of teenage boys and more than 6% of teenage girls suffer from post-traumatic stress, exhibiting symptoms similar to adults. And the reactions of younger children are strongly affected by their parents’ response to stress. Those ages 5-12 are more likely to withdraw, become disruptive, have nightmares or complain of physical problems.
You don’t have to personally experience abuse, neglect or trauma to feel anxious and stressed. Second-hand exposure to major acts of violence can also be traumatic. This includes seeing or hearing about death and destruction after a building is bombed, innocent students are murdered, a plane crashes. With the impact of mass media and easy access to the Internet, children today are exposed to lots of situations that can cause them to worry. And when your conversations focus on suffering or tragedy, you can bet that your kids are often listening more closely than you think.
You know what your family needs and how to provide a sense of security.
Explain that feeling scared, angry or sad is normal and they’ll worry less when they ask questions and talk about what’s going on. As you supervise the flow of information, encourage them to tell you what their friends are saying, so you can clarify and normalize any distortions. Reassure them that you’ll keep them as safe as you can no matter what thoughts they’re having. All this will help them process their feelings and reframe their ideas rather than falling prey to emotion.