Helping your teen cope with bad world news

Image of a concerned looking mother comforting her daughter.

When bad news breaks, it can be hard to avoid being affected by it. It’s all over TV, and everyone is talking about it on social media. We’ve put together some tips on how you can help your teen learn about current affairs in a healthy way, and what you can do if bad world news is getting them down.

How your teen might react to bad world news

Your teen likely spends a lot of time online, as their schooling relies on the internet and much of their social life also happens online. It’s therefore common for them to be exposed regularly to news about natural disasters, pandemics, terrorism, war, deaths and other distressing events when simply scrolling through their social media apps.

Your teen might react to bad world news by feeling:

  • anxious and worried

  • sad and depressed

  • scared

  • helpless

  • confused

  • angry.

Combine this with the normal ups and downs of adolescence, and your teen might be feeling like it’s all too much.

How to help your teen cope with bad world news

Understand and manage your own reaction to the news

Bad world news and distressing events are just that: bad and distressing. It’s not uncommon for parents and carers to be just as affected by it. Supporting your teen to cope starts with understanding and acknowledging your own response. 

Check in with how you’re going, and reach out to other parents and carers for support if you need it. It’s likely that the parents in your community are struggling with the news too, and it can help to share your worries with people who understand. 

You may notice that speaking with other parents and carers can amplify how you’re feeling. If this is the case, consider seeking out professional help. Working with a professional will arm you with the tools to care for both your own and your family’s wellbeing.

Open the conversation

If you can sense that your teen seems down or that something is off, the first step is to figure out what the issue is. Try asking them how their schooling, friends and hobbies are going. Be non-judgemental and offer to listen if they have anything on their mind.

Get more tips on figuring out what’s up with your teen.

Acknowledge your teen’s feelings

Whatever’s going on with your teen, they need reassurance that it’s okay to feel the way they do. Acknowledging that your teen might be feeling stressed, down or helpless reassures them that you care about them and see their concerns as valid.

Dismissing a teen’s worries can negatively impact their wellbeing and make them less likely to come to you in the future whenever something’s wrong.

Switch off together

Ask them whether they want to take a break from the news. They could listen to some music or do some of their usual hobbies or self-care activities.

You could also offer to take a break with them: go for a walk, play a game or prepare a meal together.

For the long term, you and your family could agree on some ground rules around the news. For example:

  • Only check the news at one or two set times per day.

  • No news or social media during family times, such as at the dinner table.

  • Make sure that everyone spends at least 15 minutes a day on self-care or an activity they enjoy.

Read more about managing your family’s screen time and get more practical tips for your teenager’s wellbeing.

Have ‘no news’ time with your teen

It could be useful for your teen to have some time where they don’t talk or think about what’s going on with current affairs.

Offer to have ‘no news’ time together. When hanging out with friends and other family members, your teen could also mention that they don’t want to talk about the news.

Learn more about world news together

Discuss world news together

There are many benefits for your teen of being involved in discussions and debates about current events and news stories. By discussing the news with them, you’ll be encouraging them to take an interest in their community, to increase their knowledge of topical issues and to think critically about what’s going on.

Your teen will be able to get different perspectives and learn to develop their own ways of seeing things. Learning about bad world news can be an opportunity for parents to discuss with teens what a ‘better’ world might look like and how it could be achieved. Talking about events can also help them to process what’s happening.

Research the topic together

Researching the topic with your teen can assist them to find out the facts. It’s likely that your teen has seen snippets of the story here and there on social media. The ultimate goal here is to put what they’ve seen into perspective with objective facts.

While doing this, you can also talk about how media and social media are often biased, and why it’s important to get news from trusted sources.

Before you begin, agree with your teen on a time limit for this research so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. You could also both choose an activity you enjoy to help you relax afterwards.

What can your teen do to help with world issues?

Help your teen accept their level of control

There are usually things, big and small, that a person can do to help a situation. Despite this, one person on their own can rarely stop things from happening. Learning to understand how much influence they have over something is an important step in reducing the stress your teen might feel when hearing bad news.

This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t try helping; in fact, taking positive steps to help people and the community around them will improve their wellbeing. However, we all need to understand the best ways we can contribute to a cause, and learn to accept our limits.

Our Youth service has some more tips to help your teen cope when things feel out of their control.

Advocate or volunteer

If your teen wants to take action to help, suggest that they could:

  • sign an online petition

  • share something relevant (from a reliable source) on social media

  • make a donation, if they’re able to

  • attend a rally

  • volunteer (see opportunities on SEEK Volunteer).

Using these tips, you can help your teen develop the skills to cope with bad world news. They’ll be building their resilience as a whole and be better equipped in the future to deal with whatever comes their way.

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