Once again, our community has experienced the tragedy of young lives lost in an accident. As adults, we know that accidents involving young people have happened before, and we know they’ll happen again. But for many teens, this is the first time they’ve experienced the sudden loss of a friend, or even someone they knew only slightly. They don’t understand, so they’re looking to the person who has all the answers about life: Mom or Dad. And you don’t even know where to begin.
First, This isn’t the time to “teach them a lesson.” Not yet. “Now you understand why we tell you not to drive so fast! See, this is why kids your age shouldn’t be drinking! Do you understand why we give you a curfew? Can’t you see why we want you to act responsibly! I always told you that something bad would happen to him/her!” Those messages aren’t helpful, and they won’t even register with your teen. If anything, it might push them away at a time when they desperately need your guidance and support.
We all have our logical sides and our emotional sides, and during the teen years, the gulf between the two can be huge. Right now, the emotions your teen is experiencing are so intense that it’s almost impossible for them to think logically, especially when it comes to an emotional tragedy.
Start by acknowledging and respecting their emotion. Whether they’re shocked, or angry, or scared, or hurt, or sad, acknowledge it. Hug them and validate it. Don’t tell them not to be sad or not to be angry. Don’t say “It’s will be okay if you just give it some time.” Tell them that you understand how sad, or mad, or scared they are. Right now, their sense of life’s safety and predictability has been threatened. Be there for them and let them find stability again.
Once the immediate emotions have settled down (and that’s probably going to take time, not just a few days), it’s time to turn the tragedy into a learning experience. That doesn’t mean you have a green light to lecture. Instead, start by asking questions. What can we learn from this? What do you think should have been done differently? Don’t shame the teens who died by making your own statements about what they should and shouldn’t have done. Let your teen come to those realizations on his or her own. That way, the teen they know didn’t die in vain. Others will live because of the death.
If time has passed and your teen is struggling to get through emotions, you may want to get some help from a professional. If they’re losing sleep, crying frequently, having trouble concentrating, or if you’re seeing changes in behavior and personality, seeing one of our counselors may help. Your teen may not need a long a long course of counseling. Sometimes, a session or two is all it takes to help your son or daughter process what happened (and to help you support them more effectively). If you’re worried that the accident has consumed your child, why not contact us today? Taking a step now is better than waiting until things get worse and your teen acts out in negative ways.