How to help your anxious teenager with the constant news of disasters

Dr Dan Villiers

By: Dr Dan Villiers

Like many teenagers, 17-year-old Jeremy Lancaster enjoyed the first weeks of quarantine. Instead of scrambling to finish his homework, piling up for tests, and cruising the hallway jiu jitsu with his eleventh-grade peers, Jeremy started his darling summer routine – two months earlier.

“Even though I was stuck at home, I could basically do whatever I wanted during the day and still follow all of my friends on TikTok,” Jeremy laughs.

But as the summer wore on and awareness of this distance learning returned in the fall, his attitude changed. In fact, much of his daily attention has been absorbed by the endless news cycle of the impending disaster. For Jeremy, it started to overwhelm his ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

With 80% of Americans owning a smartphone, it’s hard for anyone to turn down the volume of constant warnings about the pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, social unrest and political outrage of the day. “There is an emergency every time I look at my phone,” Jeremy shrugs.

An August 14 CDC report found that 30.9% of young adults reported having symptoms of anxiety or depression. Even more distressing, the study found that one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 say they considered suicide in the past month because of the pandemic.

As parents, this study highlights how a constant barrage of information about disasters can exacerbate an already tense situation for many adolescents. While anyone can be vulnerable to catastrophic thoughts or an unintentional fixation on the worst possible outcome, teens are especially vulnerable.

Our role as parents is to help our children feel safe while being informed; Yet how do you do exactly that when the real threat is broadcast live in CAPITAL letters through the social media fire pipe? Here are three parenting strategies that have been proven to work for teens.

Consume the news together

Digestion of world news can seem overwhelming as we often feel unable to respond in any meaningful way. One of the most effective responses is to directly reduce the amount of news your child consumes and what they access. With teens, consider avoiding sensational media and discuss how limits can serve their well-being.

For example, setting reasonable deadlines and making sure devices are turned off before bedtime is extremely helpful for children of all ages. Take an active approach and write them the relevant articles you come across. Create opportunities to discuss events together. This allows you to find out what your child already knows, assess how they are doing, and keep the line of conversation open.

Be careful, but do not “fix”

As you take the time to ask questions and learn about your teen’s state of mind, it can be tempting to promote your own personal views. After all, you probably have a more mature understanding of the different factors at play. Resist the urge. Your efforts can easily be misinterpreted by your child as “there is something wrong with me”. Instead, work on building confidence and openness by making your child feel heard and understood. Communicate regularly that you are available to them and that you care about whatever they want to talk about.

See both sides and take action

If an event is not presented fairly, spend time with your child looking for opposing angles. Help your child realize the importance of looking at different perspectives, even if you don’t agree with them. Your main goal is to keep them away from passive despair. Brainstorm together – are there ways to get involved locally? Is it possible to turn this disturbing news into positive good for their community? Even when global problems seem intractable, teaching your child to take small steps towards a positive cause can help them feel less vulnerable and more hopeful.

Since the pace of disturbing news shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, the development of these communication practices is more important than ever.


One of the country’s leading advocates, Dr Dan Villiers has educated, motivated and inspired more than 800 families to continue treating their children with acute anxiety, OCD and trauma. At the forefront of developing specialized anxiety treatment programs for school-aged children, Dr Villiers co-founded the Anxiety Institute, a Greenwich-based organization providing outpatient and intensive day treatment for children. adolescents and young adults.


Anxiety Institute in Greenwich, Connecticut and Madison, New Jersey offers specialized treatment for adolescents and young adults with anxiety, OCD and trauma. More information can be found at


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