In just the last two years, children have been exposed to many mass shootings and killings, either through social media, media or word of mouth which can cause fear and anxiety.
The February 14 tragedy at a Florida high school is no exception.
Ari Stark, vice president of operations for Destinations for Teens, suggests the following tips for parents:
- We need to recognize and address the symptoms of mental illness.
- We need to listen to our kids when they tell us something is wrong at school.
- Don't turn away when they say a friend is in trouble.
- Mental Health can be compromised for all sorts of reasons. This alleged teen shooter faced tragedies in his life that were allowed to fester and were unaddressed.
- This teen was not suicidal.
- Anger and resentment bottle up until the pressure has no way out; this may lead to desperate measures.
- Talking is good; action is better. Be emotionally supportive of your kids.
Destinations for Teens Clinical Liaison, Cynthia Della Ripa, a licensed marriage and family therapist, suggests that parents watch for behavioral changes.
"It's important for parents to be honest," she said. "Teens are hearing things from their friends and on social media, and it's important for parents to give them the facts -- so it's not all just word of mouth -- and share them in an age-appropriate way, to give kids a sense of security."
Reassure kids that they're safe and answer any questions they may have. "Emphasize the precautions that are being taken, but also validate their feelings; it's OK to feel this way, to be scared and worry. It's really important for kids to have a safe space to share their feelings, so that they want to share them with you. Especially right after a tragedy, it's important for parents to bring up the tragedy. Check in with them, and create the safe space to talk about it, ask 'How did you feel about this?'" suggests Della Ripa.
Stay close, be affectionate, and help them have a sense of security and safety. It's OK to stay close to home, and not venture out too soon after a tragedy. Della Ripa explained that "Kids who are experiencing tragedy might have difficulty sleeping or not want their parents to go to work. That's OK for a few days, but if it continues and they're not functioning well, or able to sleep alone, or go to school, those are signs that they might need some professional help.
Professional help should come without question if the tragedy is closer to home. And some kids are just more sensitive, so if it's been a couple weeks and they are still feeling anxious and not functioning as well in their daily lives, that's when you know it's time to seek professional help."
Serving both Los Angeles, California and Henderson Nevada, Destinations for Teens is a premier dual diagnosis and primary mental health treatment center serving teens 13-17 affected by substance abuse and/or mental health disorders.