Social media rumors, including “challenges” that encourage acts of defiance or violence, and the fear of school shootings recently had children, parents, and law enforcement supports on high alert in response to a tiktok-school-threat warning. This warning was dismissed as not credible; however, many still feel emotionally unsettled. Depression, anxiety, and responses such as fear impact can result from school violence and impact mental health. In 2021 alone, it was estimated that there were 149 incidents of gunfire-on-school-grounds, 32 deaths, and 94 injuries nationwide.
When something like threats of violence happens, we are naturally affected on an emotional level. Often, our sense of safety can understandably waver, which can lead to feeling a heightened state of anxiety and fear. So, at CARE we realize how important it can be to keep open lines of communication, as this can create a deeper sense of connection and trust and can establish a greater sense of safety.
Considering recent trends, how do we talk with children and teens in response to social media messages encouraging violence?
Dr. Heidi Bausch-Ryan at CARE Counseling offers the following advice on how to begin.
Open Space for Kids and Teens to Talk About What They Are Experiencing
- Having the opportunity to genuinely talk with an adult they trust—a parent, mentor, or therapist — can support children and teenagers in processing their feelings. Being informed about what is going on and then starting the dialogue by discovering what they may know can be helpful.
Ask Kids and Teens What Questions They Have
- We know that news from social media can be unreliable, so we can then engage teens in identifying the missing facts or myths from what they are seeing on social media. At CARE, we find that opening communication by asking kids and teens what questions they have, can help them to feel a sense of agency in being able to take the lead in the dialogue. This can also help to bring to the surface underlying fears and worries they may be having that you can address together. If they struggle with talking about these, reaching out to a professional, like a therapist can help bridge the gap in what they are feeling and need to express.
Provide Validation and Reassurance
- In these circumstances, it can also be so helpful to reassure them that however they are feeling is normal, they are not alone, and many likely feel just as they do about this – more than they can imagine actually! We can talk with them about how their response to this is so natural and a sign that they are human. Teens can project indifference as a way to not feel or express vulnerability, so naming this can be scary, sad, frustrating, and so forth, we have found at CARE helps to give them permission to feel and express what they need to.
Stay Grounded While Talking with Your Child
- The hardest part can often be staying grounded as you are talking with them, as often adults are also fearful about what is going on. It can be helpful to share this, as a way of modeling expression and opening the conversation more. While also reminding yourself and your kid or teen, that events such as this are rare and the odds of it occurring are lower than social media may be portraying.
Establish a Safety or Coping Plan
- Establishing a safety or coping plan can be a great way to help re-instill their sense of security in all that is going on around them – identify where, with whom, and what makes them feel safe and then plan on how to engage these people, places, and things. Also, engaging in visualizations of a safe space together can be a way to instill that sense of safety at the moment together.
Build Community to Strengthen the Community
- Reaching out to other members of the community to come together during this time can be a powerful way to remind oneself and your child or teen that safety in the community exists and can be fostered by reaching out to one another!
Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC
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