WASHINGTON – Parents may have trouble explaining the events of the Colorado theater shooting to their children and teenagers.
Dr. Drew Pinsky, a practicing physician, and Patricia Dalton, a clinical psychologist explain the best way to broach the subject with kids.
Teenagers are often much more “plugged in” to online news and may have discussed the shooting at the Aurora, Colo. movie theater with their friends.
Dalton says the best thing for parents to do is to level with their teenager and speak openly about the situation.
“What almost always comes out about these shooters is that they were, one, mentally ill in some way and number two, socially isolated,” she says.
“Those are two risk factors in these situation and that one thing can exacerbate the other thing. And to have the kids take (it) seriously if they see any signs like this in their friends.”
With nine to 12-year-old kids, Pinsky suggests talking about how they feel and how the event is affecting how others are feeling.
“Begin to talk to them about how someone deals with these things,” Pinsky says. ” (Talk) about how precious life is, about what to do with anger and aggression.”
Younger kids may not have heard about the shooting, which is important to remember when approaching the subject. But more importantly, Dalton says, they do not yet have the defenses that come with peer review in adolescence and will need to be reassured in their safety.
Pinsky says reassurance is key.
“Whenever there is an unexplained violent episode in the world that kids are exposed to through the media, first and foremost, really (is) to reassure them and get them away from disturbing images,” he says. “It’s not going to help them to be exposed to this over and over again.”
If your child is aware of the shooting in Colorado, Pinsky says it is important to dispel a sense of fear.
“They tend to have a grandiose and self-centered view of the world, which is normal,” he says.
“When they hear about unsettling things happening that really shatter their sense of what would be normalcy and safety, they quickly begin to assume that it could happen to them. So, the idea is to keep them able to assess reality more realistically,” Pinsky says.
Oftentimes, Dalton says an adult immersing themselves in the media coverage can make the situation worse.
“If the parent shows a whole lot of anxiety or turmoil themselves to the child it becomes contagious,” she says.
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Dr. Patricia Dalton clinical psychologist