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October 12, 2023

Global Events, Social Media Chaos, & How to Talk to Your Teenager about the Attack in Israel

Post By:
Tiffani Dhooge
In-House Contributor
President | CEO
Children's Harbor, Inc
Guest Contributor:

Given the recent events in Israel, many parents are wrestling with the challenge of how best to approach this sensitive subject with their teenagers. Today's teens are digital natives... and there is nothing delicate about the barrage of graphic content they are exposed to on an hourly basis. Every swipe and scroll imprints a mark on their worldview.

While we tend to view adolescence as a period of defiance and mood swings, these generalizations hardly capture the profound significance of this transformative phase in your child's development. During this crucial period, their cognitive capacity is expanding. Simply put, their brains are dramatically shifting gears. They start to think more abstractly graduating from absolute "black and white" thinking to understanding that there are gray areas that exist in this world. They start to form their own opinions about politics and morality and are plagued with questions like "who am I" and "what do I stand for". To complicate matters, as they carve out their own identities, they naturally push back from parental guidance as peer relationships take center stage.

The vast ocean of information they surf daily plays a pivotal role in the formation of their world view and their online exposure isn't curated to shield them from sensitive or graphic content. When your child sees influencers, celebrities, or even their peers speaking out on an issue, they may feel compelled to align with popular opinions, fearing backlash for holding divergent views.

So, who is going to set the tone for your child's belief system? Cardi B?  Kylie Jenner? How do you help your teenager sort through the noise? Here are 10 things you can start doing now to help them navigate through the digital chaos.

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1. Initiate the Conversation: Don't assume that you know how your teenager feels about this subject. Ask an open-ended question like, “What have you heard about what’s going on in Israel?" or “what’s your take on the situation in Israel?”  This will provide insight into their current understanding and feelings.

2. Listen: Before sharing your views, listen to theirs. Validate their concerns, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. Acknowledging their feelings and viewpoints will create a safe space for them to openly share what they truly believe rather than merely echoing what they assume you want to hear.

3. Clarify Your Values: In a world where teens are bombarded by influences, the conversations you have with your child help cement the foundational beliefs of your family. What are YOUR family's perspectives on these events? What principles guide YOUR family? If you don't communicate these values, how will your child recognize them?

4. Promote Empathy:  Remind them that behind the headlines there are real people with real experiences.  Discuss the human impact of these events and the suffering endured by civilians on all sides.

5. Address Fears and Anxieties: Graphic images, intense debates, and polarized opinions can have a profound emotional impact. The teenage brain is still developing, particularly the prefrontal cortex responsible for impulse control and emotion regulation. This can lead to impulsive behaviors and heightened emotional reactions as they struggle to process the depth of human suffering they are confronted with. Being present and available to listen without judgment, as an emotional anchor, will help them develop a balanced viewpoint. 

6. Share Stories of Resilience: take a cue from Mr. Rogers and help your child “look for the good” by highlighting stories of individuals and communities working toward peace and reconciliation in the midst of conflict.

7. Address Bias and Stereotypes:  Acknowledge that people may have differing views; however, continually reinforce the importance of discussing controversial issues without falling into the trap of blame or hate. Encourage them to challenge any biases or stereotypes they may encounter in media or peer discussions but to do so respectfully. Reinforce that while it's crucial to respect diverse opinions, it's just as essential to stress that acts of terror and violence against innocent civilians have no justification and are inherently wrong.

8. Encourage Critical Thinking:   While diversity in opinion is a strength, it can also be overwhelming. It's essential for your child to develop critical thinking skills to differentiate between informed perspectives and rumor. Encourage your teenager to broaden their information sources so that they will have a more balanced understanding.  Emphasize the importance of basing opinions on facts, empowering them to critically assess media outlets and social media chatter. Reinforce that principle by texting them links to articles that they may not have exposure to.

9. Encourage Action: Talk about the ways they can positively contribute - from attending informational seminars to supporting humanitarian initiatives.

10. Stay Updated Together: Your teenagers' perceptions will evolve as the situation continues to unfold. Keep the lines of communication open and revisit the topic periodically to gauge their thoughts and concerns.

Teens are at a stage where they're trying to understand the world around them while concurrently discovering their own identities. While celebrities and influencers might command their attention, parents have an unparalleled role in grounding their children amidst the barrage of information, opinions, and emotions.

It's not just about understanding a geopolitical event, but about teaching them the tools they will need to process through any global situation. By initiating informed conversations, promoting empathy, addressing anxieties, and most importantly, listening, we ensure that our values and principles become a part of their foundation, even as they build their unique perspectives on the world.

In this way, we ensure that their belief systems are rooted in understanding, compassion and well-informed perspectives, rather than fleeting trends or one-sided narratives. Encourage your teenager to act positively, to seek out and share stories of hope, and to remain engaged as events unfold. It's through this guided understanding that we can help our kids navigate through the chaos of public opinion with resilience and integrity.