Traumatic Community Events: Tips for Creating Space for Conversation

This special guest post from the Health, Gender and Wellness Team and Safety Team at BGCA is in response to the racially-motivated violence in Charlottesville, Virginia over the August 12, 2017 weekend, but has applicable information for leading conversations with teens following any tragic event.

Teens are exposed to a variety of messages, which are often at their fingertips through tweets and images. And frequently, the adults who care about them must quickly play catch-up to understand how to best help them navigate the complexity of the messages.

The events in Charlottesville have raised a number of questions regarding American history and the varying narratives regarding race and equality. In these times, the role of Club Professionals and particularly Teen Directors is of significant importance. You have created safe and supportive spaces for teens to share their thoughts, concerns, hurt and pain with you. In that, there is a responsibility to create a space for dialogue, understanding and in some cases, healing.

The number one thing that you can do in a time of confusion and hurt is to create a space for reflection and conversation. Creating this space will allow teens to build critical life skills related to problem-solving, emotion management and self-control.

The Harvard School of Graduate Education provides these tips to create a reflective space and help youth navigate traumatic events:

Help youth process racialized or violent events

  • Acknowledge traumatic events or circumstances – Bring up news with youth the day after it breaks, even if details or consequences are still uncertain.
  • Process and name emotions together – Help youth identify their emotions through discussion circles or individual writing prompts. Describe your own emotions, whether its outrage, fear, numbness or uncertainty.
  • Ask youth what they know and what they need – Some youth may have a thorough grasp of what’s going on, but little idea of how it could impact them. Others may feel very affected, but lack a nuanced understanding of the details. Open up the discussion to figure out what students want to know, and let them ask questions.

Empower youth to take action

  • Remind each youth that he or she has a voice that matters – Youth of color may feel marginalized, not only by racism or stereotypes, but because they’re young. Communicate to them that they are not powerless, and that their beliefs are valid and significant.
  • Give youth opportunities to take action – Ask youth what they want to do to make their voices heard. Show younger students how to write letters to Congress, or encourage older students to figure out which person or organization they can call to advocate for justice.
  • Think local – Explore the issues that are deeply affecting your community, and discuss ways to create change close to home.

These additional resources might be helpful in having conversations with youth:

Talking With Members about Tragic Events– This one-pager taken from the Be There Toolkit gives practical ideas about how staff can help Club members process tragic events.

Be There Toolkit– This toolkit is a comprehensive approach to help Clubs build supportive relationships and integrate best practices to cope with everyday loss, grief and bereavement. Please note: You will need a login to access this site.

American Counseling Association Online Toolkit– This toolkit, created in partnership between BGCA and the American Counseling Association includes podcasts and tip sheets with credible guidance and support on many timely topics.

For more information, contact the BGCA Culture of Wellness team at

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