family watching tvOver the past 2 weeks, multiple events have been receiving media coverage. These range from the death of a beloved celebrity to the shooting of an unarmed African American young man in Missouri; reaching as close as the death of a shooting instructor by a very young student to as far as the conflict between Israel and Palestine.  These events often stir up strong emotions as well as strong opinions amongst colleagues and friends. Teens are using social media on a regular basis and are likely well aware of the trending news stories. As parents, how do we address these events with our children? Some of the topics may hit close to home and others may seem like they are happening a world away, but all of them can lead to conversations and provide opportunities for reflection and learning.

Here are some ideas for opening up a dialogue with your teen on current events in he media:

1. Don’t ignore trending stories. Though many of us may not sit down and watch the nightly news with our teens, they are being exposed to current events. All of the major television and news networks are using social media, from Facebook to Twitter. Teens are high users of these same social media platforms, so it’s a good bet they’re seeing what’s trending.

2. Ask your teen if they have any ideas or opinions about stories that come up. Ask open ended questions (ones where the response isn’t yes or no) to strike up a conversation. Use the dinner table or car ride home as a place to start conversations. When your teen replies, try to listen first before stating your opinion. You may be surprised by their rationale for their response.

3. If the story hits close to home, talk about it. As an African American woman, the recent shootings of unarmed minorities is something I find myself talking about with friends and family. The people I talk with often have strong emotional reactions to events like this. We all have differing opinions, points of view, and ideas about how to make changes, but talking about it helps me realize that not everyone shares my view point which allows for richer ideas on how to make the situation better.

4. Seek out resources if the event directly affects your family. The suicide of Robin Williams, for me,  triggered memories of friends and loved ones who ended their lives too soon. It prompted me to look over suicide prevention resources again, so I have tools available if a friend is struggling with depression.

Do readers have ideas about how to approach traumatic events in the media? What tips do you have for other parents on discussing this topics with family?

For resources on sudden loss and suicide prevention, please see our previous posts:

Helping teens respond to sudden loss

Preventing teen suicide