Last Saturday I had a conversation I never thought I would have with Kaia as she shared with me a heartbreaking video about a girl caught up in the Ukrainian attacks. Having spent 50 years growing up in a peaceful Europe, I never expected to have to talk to my teen about war. But it’s at our doorstep, and with social media’s global reach, there’s no hiding the harshness of this world from our teens – and to be honest, we don’t do them a service by pretending things are otherwise.
Yes it was a difficult conversation and at times it was uncomfortable – but life is sometimes difficult and uncomfortable and pretending it’s otherwise doesn’t serve our young people. Yes we need to be age-appropriate, but chances are they’re hearing about it anyway, so denying it doesn’t help – it’s our job to balance the hysteria.
So if you need to have the conversation (and yes, you do), here are a few tips to help you talk to your teens, tweens and even little ones about the war:
- Watch your news intake. It can be easy to get absorbed by the unfolding horrors, but there’s no need to have the news on in the background all the time (or at all). Constantly being exposed to pictures and reports from the frontline, or messages of doom from the worlds’ leaders isn’t helpful. You don’t want to deny the war’s existence, but you don’t have to amplify it in your lives either.
- Be honest but don’t pass on your anxieties. Kaia and I spoke about our despair at the ways things but we also spoke about our hopes for the future. It’s really important to reassure. Passing on our anxieties does no one any good and there’s a lot of (not just) teen hysteria around whether we’re about to get blown up. I told her that every generation has its threat (I remember watching “When the Wind Blows” and talking about building bunkers in the garden) but that nuclear war was highly unlikely and that with the weight of opinion, the NATO leaders would have to respond more forcefully and put the bully back in his box.
- Look for the good. For every Putin, or terrorist, or violent criminals, there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people doing good. It took a handful of terrorists to fly into the twin towers, but there were hundreds of fire-fighters who walked into the towers when others were fleeing, or paramedics or police on the ground to assist. In Ukraine, not only are there people standing their ground to fight, but there are thousands getting together to provide humanitarian supplies or provide places for refugees. Life is all about the filters through which we see the world. We’re not denying the horror before us, but we are balancing it with the truth that most people are fundamentally good and we can take comfort from that.
- Look for what you can do. One of the most difficult things to manage when faced with overwhelming tragedy or disaster is our feelings of powerlessness. But we’re never really powerless. There is always something we can do. So, talk about how you can help. Tweens might want to show solidarity by painting a flag for the window and teens might change their profile pic or share a post on social media. Clearing out old clothes and toys ready to give to refugees or donating a week’s pocket money to a charitable organisation, not only helps the recipient but it helps us feel more in control – and that is an essential ingredient to keeping overwhelm from the door.
- Reassure them that it’s ok to be happy. Last night whilst watching Kaia perform in a show, I had a moment where I felt disorientated and guilty – what on earth were we all doing watching our kids perform Aladdin when there were millions picking over the rubble of their lives, fleeing as refugees or standing to fight? But our lives go on, and our guilt and misery help no one. Let them know that there are plenty of people taking the hard decisions that need to be taken and whilst it’s important to help where we can, they’re allowed to get on and enjoy their lives.
And as always, don’t forget to use our anxiety playlist in the house. It’s an incredibly stressful time for us all, and we all could do with a boost to reassure ourselves that we’re thankfully safe and there’s no need for us to be on high alert.