Americans are living in scary times. We’re overwhelmed with news stories of horrific mass shootings, and parents and kids are understandably scared. Surveys show increases in teen anxiety about school shootings. Some even end up skipping classes due to fear. While active shooter drills are now a necessary part of education, some students can find them upsetting on their own. Parents are wondering how to support and care for their kids during these emotionally traumatic times.
Talk to them
The most important way to give support at this time is to keep the conversation going. Talking about scary things with your teens can actually make them feel better. You should bring up the topic even if they don’t directly ask you questions about it. You’re opening a dialogue for questions and for making a plan together. These conversations can be a way for you to validate their fears. They might be feeling anger, grief, anxiety, fear, or helplessness. These emotional responses are completely normal for a few days in the immediate aftermath.
It’s important to be honest with them. While you can’t guarantee they won’t experience a shooting, let them know you, your family, and their friends and teachers are all there to keep them safe. Even though these events are all over the news, the chances of them happening to your family are still very low. Still, encourage them to reach out to an adult if someone they know seems to be struggling or behaving strangely.
Keep a routine
Kids and teens feel more secure when daily activities are routine. When they come to you about their fears about a school shooting, make sure not to add chaos to their lives. Consider ways of limiting media and technology consumption together as a family. You can avoid re-traumatization by putting down the news, especially after the tragedy of another shooting. Suggest a weekly family activity, like going out for ice cream or to the movies, where you can enact a “no phones” policy. The same goes for nightly family dinners, if that’s possible with your work schedule. Getting together as a family at the end of each day allows you to check in with your teens about how they feel and react to the events around them. You can encourage them to keep asking questions.
Encourage them to become advocates
After the Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the student survivors became voices in the national campaign for stronger gun control. They spoke up about their trauma and drew attention to the real fears kids today face. They made effective changes in Florida’s gun laws by protesting. Encourage your teen to channel their fear into action for positive change. They could also consider volunteering at nonprofits that help the marginalized groups directly affected by mass shootings, such as religious minorities and people of color.
Teach them healthy coping skills
Give your child the skills to deal with their fears and anxiety as they come. Try meditation, yoga, or tai chi. You could even try these methods together. Encourage them to develop a creative or energetic outlet, like painting, making music, or skateboarding. Take them to nearby natural resources, like parks and nature preserves.
Seek professional counseling
If your child seems to have a hard time recovering after a major shooting event, it might be time to get them into therapy. Look out for changes in their behavior, like not wanting to go to school, eating too much or too little, sleep disturbances and nightmares, irritability, and excessive worrying. These are signs that your teen could be having chronic anxiety or a traumatic response.