Talking to Your Middle Schooler about What's In the News

Meredith deChabert, Middle School Principal

It seems that the news is never good anymore, at least not when it is coming from the television, the internet, or social media. As much as we want to shield our young adolescents from the scary events that are happening in our country and around the world, the reality is that they will eventually come to know of them from friends or their mobile devices. So what do we do? How do we, as educators and parents, talk to our children about tragic events like what recently happened in Las Vegas? How do we calm their fears and help them to understand the complexities of the world?

At school, we take our cues from the students, and if they bring up these tough topics, we do our best to address them. Our Middle School Counselor, Carrie Donahue, and the grade-level deans are terrific resources for our advisors in these cases. Below, I have distilled tips from a few good articles, including from the National Association of School Psychologists and Common Sense Media, which offer advice on how to broach those tough topics with your children at home.

  • Consider your child’s maturity and temperament. I think it’s important to start with this recommended step, as we know that some children are highly sensitive, and they may be greatly disturbed or agitated with too much information. You know your child and if he or she can handle a discussion of disturbing events.
  • Ask your children what they know. It is highly likely that they have heard about the incident and have questions. They probably also have lots of incorrect information, too, so it is beneficial to take the time to assess what they know and what they are curious about. Not talking about the incident can make it even scarier for some children. Make sure they know they can come to you with any questions or concerns, and have follow up conversations when you think the time is right.
  • Give them a simple summary. “Bad things happen, but there are good people out there helping, and we’re strong enough to get through it” (Morin). Middle schoolers will ask more questions, as their critical thinking skills are rapidly developing. You can take your lead from the questions that they ask after your simple summary.
  • Reassure them that they are safe. Many young adolescents will think about the events and try to figure out how they might impact their lives. With the Las Vegas attack having happened at a concert, children may be concerned about both your and their safety when going about normal activities. This is a good time to talk about possibility versus probability. You also want to reassure your children that you, their school, and the people entrusted with protecting American citizens will do everything possible to keep them safe.
  • Remind your child of the good deeds that happen all around us. Every day that we pull together to help others, we send a message to our children that most people in the world are really good. You can also empower your child to become a helper in the wake of a tragic event. Taking action gives them a sense of control at times when even the adults are feeling helpless.

For more in-depth advice, check out these resources: