By Natalie Duvall, EdD, MFA and Matthew Duvall, PhD, MFA
Since last week’s article about how to talk to younger kids about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, several articles have popped up on how to talk to teenagers about the war. This is probably because older kids are more likely to know what’s going on in Ukraine, and if we’re honest, they’re likely to know more about what is going on in Ukraine than we do.
Their favorite social media sites, like TikTok, provide easy access to Ukrainians who are in the middle of the war. Video clips are frequently posted showing soldiers on the front lines, teenagers living in bomb shelters, and children touring their bombed-out cities. But just because they have access to these media doesn’t mean they are fully equipped to think critically about it. As an adult, you can help by providing a more critical lens, as teens tend to take everything on social media at face value.
Fortunately, in addition to their exposure to social and regular media, it’s likely that they’re also discussing these topics in school with teachers who are trained to discuss current events and help them develop their media literacy. There are also many free resources for homeschool parents who want to teach about the war.
Given that your teenager probably knows a good deal about the war, what are strategies you can use in your home?
- Just like with younger kids, the first step is to ask your children if they have heard about the war in Ukraine. It’s important to listen to what they say, because this is a good time to clarify or correct any misinformation your teen might have. If they tell you something that you’ve never heard, take the time to research together. Kids actually love showing their parents how good they are at researching on the internet, and this is a good time for both of you to learn together.
- Now, despite the fact that teens are better prepared to think through the situation than younger kids are, it is still important that parents assure their kids that they are safe. Older kids might have more specific fears, like how they’ll afford life after high school, or if they could be drafted, or if Russia could come after us next, all of which are valid concerns. In fact, you might have some of those same concerns for them. Teenagers appreciate straight talk, and this is the time to have it with them. And don’t think you have to have all the answers on your own. Look to friends and family for support.
- Be prepared for seemingly inappropriate responses. Teens’ brains are still developing, and that means that sometimes they respond in ways we think are inappropriate. They might laugh or tell jokes when talking about the serious consequences of war. That’s okay, and it doesn’t mean that your child is going to turn into a serial killer. What it does mean is that your child is trying to process the really big emotions that come with living their teen years during a global pandemic and a war.
Teenagers live in that curious spot between childhood and adulthood. In many ways they present as if they are adults. However, we must remember that they are just as close to the innocent elementary kids they once were as they are to the responsibility-laden adults they will become. It’s not necessary to shield them from the realities of the world, but it’s still so important that we remember they are still just children who have a lot of growing and learning left to do.