It is a difficult time in America right now. Following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minnesota, on top of the national stress we are all feeling from the COVID pandemic, protests and demonstrations are occurring across the nation and social media is awash in horror and conflict. All of this has direct impact on the young people we serve. As Boys & Girls Club staff, we have a responsibility to use our positions as supportive adults in the lives of our members to help in whatever ways we can. In 2017 after the racially-motivated violence in Charlottesville we featured a post with tips on how to talk with teens about traumatic community events, which is still relevant today. It is a good place to get started.
Today we will dive a little more in-depth on how to frame those conversations, featuring an excerpt from a BGCA Youth Development Resource How to Talk to Teens About Traumatic Events. If you haven’t led these kinds of conversations before, it can be difficult to know what to say or what questions to ask. For those who aren’t yet programming in person due to COVID, this can easily be run as a live virtual meeting.
To be clear, this conversation should not only happen in Clubs with majority black youth. All youth need to process these events, hear from their peers and adults about experiences that may not mirror their own, and think about their roles in creating a more just and inclusive society. Staff must be diligent about creating and maintaining a safe space that affirms the dignity and humanity of those involved.
Here are some ways to initiate dialogue with young people:
Address the Incident Directly
Show teens that you understand what is on their mind and are here to support them by initiating dialogue about the incident. Don’t wait for teens to come to you to strike up conversation, instead ask them direct questions such as:
- “Tell me what you’ve heard about [the incident]?”
- “What do you know about [the incident] that took place this week?”
- “What have you seen or heard about [the incident] on the news or on social media?”
Show Willingness to Answer Questions
It is important for teens to know that you are here to support them and that they view you as a resource. Make sure to show willingness to talk and answer questions about the incident by saying things such as:
- “I am here to talk and answer any questions you may have about [the incident].”
- “I know that this is an upsetting time for many of you, please know that I am here to answer any questions or concerns you have about [the incident].”
- “Does anyone have any questions about what happened during [the incident]?
Validate and Listen to Feelings
Ask teens to share their feelings about the incident, and respond with empathy. It is also important to respond with validation that you are listening, without directly telling them how they should feel or that you know how they feel. Here are some helpful prompts:
- “It sounds like you are feeling [sad/upset/scared] about this [incident].”
- “Do you feel safe at school, the Club, and our community? What is it that you’re worried about?”
It is important to validate why teens are feeling the way they are – if we just discount their feelings with throwaway statements such as “You are going to be fine” or “I know how you feel,” we shut down the conversation and teens may no longer feel safe bringing up their emotions.
You can download the entire How to Talk to Teens About Traumatic Events Guide, which also includes steps to get started, self-care tips, emotional check-in activities, and teen activism project ideas, here.
To learn more about how to support youth who are grieving, Boys & Girls Club staff can access resources in our Be There initiative, a comprehensive approach to help Clubs support grieving youth, at BGCA.net/bethere.