Helping your teens cope with bad news and the media cycle

It’s hard to avoid bad news – young people in particular are spending lots of time online, and it’s easy for them to be exposed to news about natural disasters, pandemics, wars, and other distressing events. They may also find their identity being brought up in public and debated by strangers, some of them with not so nice opinions. If your teen is feeling overwhelmed or scared by all the bad news and negative media, its important to let them know you are here for them, and help them cope with and discuss the things they’re seeing online.

How to tell if your teen is struggling

It can sometimes be difficult for teens to come out and admit they’re struggling or overwhelmed. Everyone responds differently to negativity, but if your teen is showing any of the following, it could be a sign they need some help:

  • They’re often feeling agitated, anxious, angry, or sad
  • They’re isolated and disconnected from friends and family
  • They’re frequently getting into arguments in real life and online

If your teen comes to you with questions or concerns, it’s important to stay open minded and remind them that you are always here to listen.

Helping your teen cope with bad news

As parents, we can play an important role in supporting our teens and help them to understand what’s happening in the world.

Start a conversation

If your teen has come to you with questions, or if you sense something is wrong, make sure you start by giving them space to talk without interruptions. Try to use open-ended questions and encourage your teen to talk. Don’t immediately try and jump in with advice or judgement, or try and multitask while they’re talking to you – put aside any distractions and just listen.

Acknowledge their feelings

Let your teen know that it’s totally normal for them to feel the way they do. You might even be able to validate their feelings by letting them know that sometimes adults struggle with the same problem too. It’s important for your teen to know that they are safe to come to you with any future problems or questions.

Ask if they want to switch off

You might like to suggest ways your teen can switch off from television or social media for a while. They might like to listen to some music, play a game, or engage in other self-care activities. You might even like to do something together, like going for a walk, making dinner, or just having a chat about something else to take their mind off it.

Help them accept their level of control

Some teens might feel helpless or powerless, or that the world is a bad place and there is nothing they can do to fix it. Remind them that it’s alright to accept when you have no control over a situation, and that it’s not their responsibility to solve everything. Let them know there are sometimes small things they can do to make a difference, like volunteering, signing petitions online, making a donation, or spreading positive news stories instead.

Contextualising the news

Teaching our teens to be critical and mindful of the things they see is so important. This can help them feel more confident when watching TV or browsing online, and ensure they don’t fall into a trap of misinformation or negativity.

Watch and read together

If your teen has brought up a particular issue or topic, you might like to ask them to show you what they read or watched, and look at it together. Ask them what they’re thinking and the reasons it’s upsetting for them.

Don’t pretend to have all the answers

Sometimes our teens can come to us with questions about sensitive or uncomfortable topics. It’s completely OK to admit you don’t know how to answer their question. Instead, take it as an opportunity to do some research and learn together with your teen.

Research together

While you research, remind your teen that some news sources and social media can be biased, and that there are lots of different opinions out there. Find a trusted source to get the facts and encourage your teen to make this place their go-to for breaking news in the future, instead of relying on TikTok or Reddit.

Looking after yourself

Persistent and distressing news reports don’t just affect teens – you might also be feeling overwhelmed, upset, or helpless too, and that’s OK. Don’t forget to look after your own mental and physical health, check in with friends and family, and just disconnect from the internet every once in a while.

Finding help

There are heaps of resources out there for both parents and teens to help them cope with bad news and other problems. You might like to share this article from Reach Out with your teen on how to cope when things feel out of your control. They also have a great guide for parents on effective communication techniques with teens.

We also have other blogs and resources on our websites for parents, and for teens on wellbeing.


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