Look for the Helpers – helping young people process media trauma

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How do we help our teenagers to process evil incidents that are published in the international media?

My number one piece of advice is always this, “Look for the helpers.”


Despite the mass media attention to trauma and chaos, we need to remain mindful that there are often only a few evildoers involved in reprehensible incidents. The list of people willing to do good goes on and on, growing by the minute. We see it every time, people lined up, ready to do anything to help.

At times like this even teenagers need the adults in their lives to explain what they have seen or heard, and to reassure them about what will happen next.

Parents, don’t underestimate the power of your own nurturing.

Children with a history of anxiety or depression seem to be at increased risk of stress, when they see bad news in the media. These kids need a little extra patience and reassurance from you.

3 tips on how to help children cope with disaster in the media:

  1. Turn off the TV. Watching television reports on disasters often become overwhelming. Overexposure to coverage of the events affects adults as well.
  2. Listen to your children carefully. Before responding, get a clear picture of what it is that they understand and what is leading to their questions. Begin a dialog to help them gain a basic understanding that is appropriate for their age and responds to their underlying concerns.
  3. Give your child reassurance and psychological first-aid. Take this opportunity to let them know that if any emergency or crisis should occur, your primary concern will be their safety.

Signs of stress:

Parents should be alert to any significant changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits, concentration, wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints without apparent illness. If present, these will likely subside within a short time. If prolonged, however, may I encourage you to seek psychological support and counselling.

Younger children will depend largely on their parents to interpret events, while teenagers will get information from a variety of sources which may not be as reliable.

Expect the unexpected. Not every child will experience these events in the same way.

But remember – Focus on the helpers. Their deeds can teach great life lessons such as selflessness, kindness and bravery.

never lose hope


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  1. Thanks Collett, this is a great post that I will share with my readers. I wonder if you think it might be a good idea (or bad?) to share with a teenager the other point people are making on social media, that in Iraq today there were 30 bomb blasts leaving 50 dead, a story completely over-shadowed by the attack in Boston. I feel my teenager would be up to comprehending the point of that.

    • Hi Rachel. Yes, there has been a lot on that today. Without minimising the Boston tragedy, I think it is a good idea to talk with teens about world wide issues. In doing so you can still focus on the helpers. Look at organisations such as World Vision, Compassion, A21 for example. Highlighting the good they are doing and having conversations about others is really important for teens (and adults) to maintain perspective, cultivate a sense of thankfulness and look outward.

  2. So wise, so true. xc