Talking to your teenager about the drought

a teenager listening with the back of a parents head in the foreground

Of course you want to shield your family from hard times. As a parent or carer you feel that it’s your job to take things on and protect those around you, particularly your children.

The thing is, young people are noticing the stress. They have told us they are worried about you - their parents and family. They see the reports in the media about the drought and wonder how those things are impacting their own family. They might be noticing hushed conversations between the adults in the house. Young people see the reduced number of livestock and paddock after paddock of dry land.

With all of this going on, teenagers often keep their worries to themselves as they don’t want to add to their family’s burden. But this isn’t good for anybody. You may not know that things are bothering them so you can’t help, and they bottle their feelings, getting more stressed in the process.

The best way you can support your teen is to let them know they can always come to you, even when it seems like you are stressed out.

You can kick things off by talking about the drought openly and honestly. We’re not saying vent to your kids about all of your stresses, but having open and honest chats about how the drought may be impacting your family and the community around you.

Here are 5 tips for opening up a conversation about the drought with your teenager.

1. Talk about yourself

Start the conversation by sharing how you feel about the drought and what’s happening in your community. You can also share all the amazing work you’re doing to get your family through the drought. Bring your teenager into your world so that they can see the whole picture.

By sharing how you’re going you will show your teenager that it’s okay to not be okay. It will also show that you trust and respect them enough to show them some of your vulnerability or worries.

You may have got through tough times before, even previous droughts. It is important to remember how resilient you and your family have been and to keep hope alive during these hard times. It is useful for young people to hear these reassuring messages.

2. Ask questions

Use open ended questions like ‘how do you feel about that?’ and ‘what do you think we should do?’. When your teenager opens up, make sure you listen well and reflect back what you have heard - ‘Ok so it sounds like this is where you’re at…’ - to demonstrate you heard them and you’re on the same page.

3. Choose the right setting

You know your teenager best and where and how they feel most comfortable but we’ve had some great suggestions from other parents.

“When you don’t have to have eye contact, you can just have an ‘eyes straight ahead’ conversation. Like, in the confines of the car, when there’s no one else there to hear.” - Doug, father of two

But certain distractions are a no-go. Put phones away and make sure you haven’t chosen to strike up conversation at the same time as your teenager’s favourite TV show is airing.

4. Communicate on their terms

You may actually end up finding it quite tricky to get your teenager to sit down and have a conversation with you. There are lots of different ways to have a conversation; face-to-face, via email, or instant messaging. Just because it’s not super comfortable for you doesn’t mean it won’t bring out the best in them.

“If they're not gonna talk to you face to face, well, what are you gonna do? You've gotta try something. Well, get on their level, start messaging.” - Olga, mother of two

5. Share some things that you're doing to take yourself

If the drought is having an impact on your own mental health and wellbeing, it’s important to put some things in place to help you cope. You can get some tips on taking care of yourself for your kids from this article.

Let your teenager know what you’ve put in place - perhaps you have a weekly catch up with a friend or you’re trying to go to bed 15 minutes earlier to make the early mornings easier. Use this to encourage them to brainstorm things that they can do to chillout.

Show them this infographic to get some inspiration, and check in with them to make sure they’re doing the things they’ve committed to. Perhaps you could even find something to do together.

Being honest with your teenager about the drought and the impact it is having on you and your family can be confronting. If you role model openness and looking after yourself, your teenager will take note and is far more likely to do those things themselves. And if they are having a hard time with the drought then let them know they can get support around coping with the drought from our youth service

This article has been reviewed by the Centre for Regional and Rural Mental Health.

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