We are not even halfway through 2017 and there have been so many big issues front and center that it makes my head swim. Big issues around gun violence, climate change, immigration, computer hacking, to name a few. The latest is another terrorist attack. My daughter telephoned me the other day expressing grave concern that this is all going to end with a nuclear war. What do we tell our teenagers and young adult children?
The Instinct to Protect
A parent’s first instinct is to protect their children, no matter how old they are. For many, the temptation is denial. Some soft pedal – “it’s really not that bad” or “this doesn’t affect your life directly.” Others block out the conflict. They focus on creating a safe space to retreat to with people who think like them, look like them, have similar experience.
Does Running the Other Way Really Help?
This is not an inexplicable or necessarily evil response. It is, at least on the face of it, the simplest, most manageable approach. But teaching your teenage and young adult children to hide from or ignore a problem is not a solution.
For starters, they most likely won’t really believe the evasive response. If they know enough to worry, and they voice that worry to you, they want help resolving it. Maybe most important, if you ignore the issue, you are ignoring their request for help problem solving. Your effort to protect may end up making them feel more insecure and helpless.
What’s The Alternative?
Here’s an alternative approach that I have used with my teens and young adults. We can start by affirming to our children that their concerns are not silly. At the same time, I think it is important to let them know that there are solutions. Finally, talk to them about what they can do to be a part of the solution. I’ve suggested finding groups that are already working on these problems and finding out how to get involved. Or starting their own project and recruiting friends to help. Or writing on the topic for the school or local newspaper. Taking action gets rid of that feeling of helplessness, the source of fear.
Sound familiar? It’s the same approach that works with toddlers when they’re scared of big dogs. It’s the same approach that works with elementary school kids who are being teased. Yes, world problems are bigger and are overwhelming, even for parents! And solving them is neither easy nor fast. But if we and our children believe we can contribute to a solution, and we act upon that belief, we are on our way to a better world.
How do you address your teenager’s fears about the world?