AGES 13 TO 18
Signs of distress: Withdrawing, irritablility, argumentative behavior, sarcasm, headaches, stomachaches
What to say: Angry types of behavior or withdrawing may actually be a cover for feelings of anxiousness, hopelessness, and vulnerability. Instead of being direct ("What's wrong with you?"), talk about your own feelings: "This is an unbelievable tragedy. I'm in shock and I feel angry. It makes me wonder about the future." Teenagers have a sense of the larger context and are eager to participate in abstract discussions. By voicing your own feelings and worries, you encourage your child talk about his emotions and help him make sense of his feelings. Also keep in mind that this latest disaster comes on top of what happened at Columbine High School and other shootings at schools. You can ask, "What's going on at your school? Are other kids feeling scared? What are your teachers saying?" This is an opportunity for you to learn more about your child's world.
What to do: Make sure your child knows that you're always available to talk about what's in the news. Keep up your discussions ("What do you think the government should do?") and really listen. Teens appreciate having their opinions heard and it helps them express their feelings. You can also let your child know that these emotions take time to process -- that you can't rush to feel better. In the meantime, there are things you can do to help out and combat feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. Volunteer with your child at your house of worship or community service organization, start a fund drive for relief organizations, or write letters to your members of Congress.