Sometimes we are faced with awful events over which we have no control. They send us into a spin and we have to use all of our energy and knowledge to process and work through them.
But what if we’ve never been exposed to a tragic event before? What if we’re a young adult and we’re experiencing tragedy in its raw form for the first time?
Young adults are hardwired to be part of “something”. Often, whether they like it or not, that something can be the school community.
This can make it all the more difficult when something happens which directly affects the school community. The illness, disappearance or even the death of a school colleague can send a tidal wave of shock through a school instantly.
Add the immediate information source of social media and suddenly a dangerous game of Chinese whispers begins.
Here are some of my top tips for supporting young adults if you’re an educator or carer…
Listen, Acknowledge, Believe
We know that young adults can sometimes be accused of never letting the truth stand in the way of a good story but they do not know what is true and what has been inflated for dramatic license.
If they see a new “report” on social media, updating them on their school friend, they are likely to believe it.
Whether you know this to be true or not, it is important to acknowledge that they believe it.
Try and hear them out and then ask them how they feel about the news. Do they believe it? know it to be true? Remind them that there are trusted sources of information such as the school or the parents of their friend. Has the news come from there?
Remember that whether the news is true or not, it will have generated a felt reaction and this should always be acknowledged. Not to do so could result in the young adult withdrawing and not trusting you.
Don’t overwhelm your young adult. They will want to share this new experience with their peers which could come across to us crusty old adults as false and over-dramatising things.
Remember, for many of them, they will not have had a chance to test out the emotions created by a tragic event at school.
Let them see first hand how others react so that they can decide how they want to react.
You may find that your young adult sees the weeping and midnight vigils as pointless but nevertheless is having difficulty expressing how they feel.
As humans, we often want to make sense of tragedy and feel that we are doing something to help.
A school I work with recently had to deal with the tragic death of a former student. Students that I spoke to wanted to do something as a community and decided they would like to light lanterns together. This helped them to mark the loss and have some closure. For more information, see my blog about bereavement.
Things like an open book of condolence, memories or get well wishes can give students a tangible place to go and take some action, mixing with others can help too.
Encourage students to record their thoughts and feelings on their phone or in a journal. This has can be as helpful as talking to someone.
Give Accurate Information
If you are a school, my advice is to connect with a trusted source of information. The family are the best source but otherwise, police or other support teams working with the family may be able to help.
Share information as and when you have it.
This can be difficult as the social media jungle drum is often the “go to” for news, fake or otherwise.
Be truthful with students from the offset and reassure them that you will share facts as a and when you have them.
Follow through with this!
Use your support teams and any mental health professionals to offer support. Sometimes, having a quick chat or a few minutes time out can really help.
Support doesn’t have to be a talking therapy. Make some quiet space for reflection if students need it and ensure that students will remain quiet. Libraries are often good for this.
Likewise, have a “support hangout” destination where more extroverted types can meet and talk about how they feel with others without fear of recrimination.
Most of all, use your common sense! And remember, you were a teenager once!
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