This week our feeds are full of stories of war in Europe that have shocked and horrified the world. We all feel our digital dependency increasing as anxiety mounts about the unknowns of the coming days and weeks, which, in turn, makes us more anxious. Those most impacted by this vicious cycle are the biggest consumers of the digital world: our teens. This comes on the heels of lockdowns, school closures, and event cancelations that have shaped their high school years and caused a mental health crisis in the U.S. As a parent or adult ally, it can be challenging to find the way best to help your teen navigate events that even we, as adults, are having trouble processing.
Here are some tips to help you & your teen overcome and understand these times:
Changes in Behavior
Everyone deals with stress and anxiety differently. The first step is to observe your teen and see if you notice any changes in their behavior. Is your ordinarily social teen more isolated? Is your teen noticeably more anxious? Look for changes in physical appearance (hygiene, etc.), eating habits, or sleeping habits. When you notice any of these changes, let your teen know you're here to help. Reminding them that you are open to talking and processing together is a great first step.
Limit Media Intake
We live in a constantly connected world that bombards us with images, notifications, and streams. Our Textless Live More programs can help establish healthy relationships with our devices. Set boundaries, especially as it relates to digital usage in the evenings. Yes, everyone has homework, shows to watch, and more. Set up times and spaces in the home where everyone is phone-free—adults included. Begin decreasing digital engagement an hour or more before bed and, as a family, make a deal to unplug before bed. If you don't, you can go down that rabbit hole of news links (or TiKToks) and lose sleep.
Talk about the Fear
Your teen is a savvy young person who has been watching world events. Ask open-ended questions as part of your daily routine. As you're driving them to practice, ask questions like, "have you been following the stories coming out of Ukraine?" "How does that make you feel?" Talking about feelings or worries can put your teen at ease. Focusing on their fears, not your own is important, but being vulnerable and sharing that we don't know what will happen can create a space for a very healthy dialogue. Get to the root of what is bothering them so that you can have an open, honest discussion.
Ease their Fear
Depending on your teen's worries, you can talk about ways to manage them. A great way is to get involved. Many volunteer opportunities exist at the local, state, and national levels. The SADD Volunteer Guide has ways to give back and support your community that can easily be adapted to support families in Ukraine.
SADD has partnered with a variety of national organizations to create our Mental Health Tool Kit. Check out this great resource for many of the risks and pressures facing teens today. When in doubt, contact your teen’s primary care physician, counselor, or another mental health provider. If you worry your teen may be in crisis, call 911.