End of Year Celebrations:

How Can We Help Keep Our Teens’ Spirits High Despite Current Events?

End of Year Celebrations:

How Can We Help Keep Our Teens’ Spirits High Despite Current Events?


Based on an interview with Nathalie Parent, psychologist, author and speaker

Recession, lay-offs, rising costs of living, wars, global warming, 2023 has been a busy year and it has not been kind to our mental health. With the holiday season approaching, family gatherings can turn into an opportunity for discussions on these difficult topics.

  • Might these conversations stress your teen out?
  • How can you help them see the bigger picture?
  • Is there a straightforward way of talking about current affairs without falling into fatalism or cynicism?

Nathalie Parent, a psychologist specializing in teenage anxiety, breaks down the situation.

How are young people affected by the news?

Even if teens are exposed to the news, they don’t always realize or process its impacts the way adults do. According to our expert, teens are generally more concerned by their day-to-day challenges than by external events, which doesn’t stop them taking an interest from time to time.

In fact, even if a piece of news directly affects them (for example, a family member losing their job or living in a conflict zone), teens tend to emotionally protect themselves by distancing themselves from the situation. They might spend more time out of the house, with their friends, etc. Bear in mind that this is not a lack of sensitivity, but a perfectly healthy coping mechanism.

However, Parent highlights that some young people who already have an anxious disposition can experience greater anxiety as a result of troubling headlines.

For example, after watching the news on TV, your teen might:

🤐 Have a sudden change of mood and stop talking
😬 Bite their nails
🙆‍♂️ Fidget nervously and get up suddenly
❌ Withdraw into themselves
🚬 Increase their substance use (smoke, look for an alcoholic drink)
🎮 Seek comfort in their mobile phone or video games

If you see these behaviours, don’t hesitate to open up a dialogue with your teen:

  • “I see that your mood’s changed all of a sudden. What’s happened?”
  • “Might this have something to do with what you’ve just heard?”

By starting the conversation and listening kindly to your young person, you enable them to process their emotions and yourself to better understand their concerns.

Our expert suggests it’s better to not show young teens violent and shocking images (for example, bomb sites, blackened animals after a fire, etc.) and, whatever their age, to take your child’s level of sensitivity into account before exposing them to distressing images.

How can we approach conversations about the current context during the holidays?

The upcoming social gatherings are opportunities to spend time with your loved ones. They can also be opportunities for lively discussions on the pressing issues of recent months and events that may have either directly or indirectly affected your family and friends. As a result, conversations can vary in how intense or disturbing they are, and it’s important to keep an eye on your young person’s reactions at these times.

Nathalie Parent recommends looking out for signs of anxiety in your teen. If you notice any worrying behaviours, don’t hesitate to go back over what was discussed with your teen the day after the celebration. You can ask them about the effect that those words had on them.

By opening up the discussion, you allow yourself to better understand what your young person is feeling and the reality in which they are growing up. However, it’s also an opportunity to reassure them.

For example, if a family member has lost their job, Parent advises putting this situation in context for your teen.

‘It’s true that losing your job is no laughing matter. But we’re lucky here in Quebec because there’s a shortage of workers. And he’s going to do everything he can to get another job.”

“You know, he got a big cheque when his job ended (or he’ll get support from the government). That will help him out while he’s finding another job.”

These responses show your young person that there are resources out there to help people get through a difficult situation.

If you expect these conversations to get heavy, have some fun activities on hand to bring their attention back to more cheery and festive things. For example, you could suggest a board game, family karaoke or a film.

As a last resort, you could simply state your boundaries to the adults present at your family gatherings.

“Let’s change the subject: it’s the holidays. Personally, I’d appreciate talking about something more light-hearted. There are young people who don’t really need to hear that.”

“It’s true that it’s a current topic, but we’re here to have fun. I won’t enjoy myself if we get into that. Can we talk about something a bit more light-hearted?”

How to help put your young person back in high spirits despite the current state of affairs?

Outside of end of year gatherings, if your teen is affected by the news, consider talking about it with them and checking the content that they’re being exposed to in order to assess its relevance.

Young people tend to inform themselves via means other than official news websites or government sources. To help your teen have a well-rounded and more nuanced understanding of current affairs, have a look at some more reliable sources of information with them.

You can also explain to them that journalists have always written shocking headlines to catch their readers’ attention by using certain words such as:

  • “The situation is critical!”
  • Huge spikes in gas prices!”
  • Extreme heat waves, raging fires.”

Also, if your young person is experiencing eco-anxiety, you could remind them of the hole in the ozone layer, which was a cause for serious concern a few years ago.

You could say: “This isn’t the first time that environmental problems are a big topic of discussion. A few years ago, all anyone could talk about was the hole in the ozone layer. But measures were put in place and the hole closed on its own. The best thing to do when faced with a problem is to be conscious of it and see what you can do to mitigate it.”

When faced with the cruelty of war we can remind our teens that we are able to do good within our own environment. In the case of a family member losing their job, you can invite your teen to talk about it with the people around them, to help their loved one find another job.

These various strategies all have something in common: helping your teen understand that they have power over their life by implementing simple actions.

However, if you feel anxiety yourself in the wake of current affairs and you’re struggling to maintain a hopeful outlook, don’t hesitate to talk about it with the people around you and to ask for help from an adviser from your CLSC or your EAP, or get in touch with helplines for parents of teens, such as Tel Jeunes at 1-800-361-5085.

Finally, to help your young person maintain a more nuanced and balanced viewpoint when faced with the complex challenges of our time, don’t forget to highlight its more positive aspects. For example, ask them what good things they have in their life and what helps them tackle their everyday challenges (their family, their friends, their abilities, etc.). Point out that everyone has an innate ability to recover from traumatizing life events: forests can grow back after fires, people can recover after trauma, sometimes by asking for help from others.

By showing them that the in the face of destruction we find resilience and an overwhelming desire for life, you enable them to believe that a promising future is within their reach.

You may live in the world as it is, but you can still work to create the world as it should be.

—Michelle Obama

Resources to help you with your teen

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