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How Do We Talk with Our Teens about the Virginia Tech Tragedy
By Lisa M. Hendey

Last night, I went rock climbing at an indoor gym with a group of my girlfriends. During a break, a few of us sat on the floor and discussed the very sad situation at Virginia Tech. The horrifying video clips and photos of the killer had just been released and were airing all over the place. I told my friends about the many deep and interesting conversations our family has been having this week related to this tragic situation. Two of them said they are severely limiting their own exposure and that of their children to the story. They are avoiding reading the newspaper and viewing television coverage of the story. Friends at school also told me that they were worried that discussing the story with their junior high and teenage children would cause them undue fear and anxiety.

This conversation with trusted friends left me second guessing whether or not I was doing the right thing in talking in depth with my sons about this week’s devastation. Seeking advice, I decided to contact someone I consider to be an expert on both Catholic faith and teenage issues, Mark Hart. Affectionately known as the “Bible Geek”, Mark ministers to tens of thousands of teens (and grown ups!) weekly through his work as Vice President of LIFE TEEN. He is the author of three wonderful books, including the newly released Ask the Bible Geek 2: More Answers to Questions from Catholic Teens. Mark was generous enough to take some time with a concerned mom, offering counsel and wisdom on how to turn this horrific situation into an opportunity for fostering even better relationships with our kids.

When I posited my question to Mark, his immediate response was, “Parents absolutely need to be talking with their kids about this!” Hart shared with me that his near immediate reaction to the killings was to schedule a spur of the moment meeting with the junior high theology group he teaches on a biweekly basis. Knowing today’s young people as well as he does, he knew that the teens would be inundated by the events – the only question was from whom they would be receiving their information. The reality we face today is that our young people are “wired” to the extent that despite parents’ best efforts at censorship, they have access to graphic video and audio images on an almost instantaneous basis. Mark Hart shared with me that within hours the “manifesto” video of the killer had risen to the most watched status at YouTube and other social networking sites so popular with our teens.

Rather than avoiding what they might consider to be fear-inducing conversations with their teens, Hart counsels parents of teens to “combat the fear with truth and love”. He encourages conversations between kids and parents, but also offers the wisdom that our children should be given the opportunity to speak out on the topic. “Ask them open ended questions,” Hart advises. Parents should focus on truly listening to their teens and avoid “monologues”. “We should listen twice as much as we talk,” Hart encourages. I know from personal experience that this can truly be a challenge – as parents we want so badly to convey to our kids our cares and concerns that we risk monopolizing conversations and waste opportunities to truly know the hearts and minds of our children.

Mark Hart advises using this horrible situation as an opportunity to be more loving and present to our children. We need to be physically and emotionally present to them on a regular basis – not just at scheduled occasions such as watching their sporting events or dance recitals. By “wasting time with our kids” and getting away from the mile a minute schedules by which we are all driven, we can nurture long lasting emotional relationships that will help and support our children though difficult times such as these.

My own boys, ages twelve and fifteen, have been very outspoken on the events of the week. They don't watch much television, but they have joined me in listening to the story on satellite radio in the car as we go about our daily travels. We have prayed together, cried together, and discussed at length the week's unfolding of events. My discussions with Eric, the fifteen year old, have been much different than those I've had with twelve year old Adam (my "baby", who is now officially taller than me). I find solace in Eric's teenage attitude about this event and in his righteous indignation regarding an entire generation of young men being branded by the actions of one mentally ill student. As a mom of young men, I feel as though my biggest duty is to raise them to be Christ's light and love to others in our world. I am aiming to be tuned into their current emotional status and continue to look for signs of distress or depression that may crop up.

Although this subject is so pain-filled, I am comforted that my boys are so open to discussing their feelings about it with me. I need to pray, and to talk, a lot this week.

LIFE TEEN is offering a special “Making Sense of the Senseless” lifenight program free of charge for parishes and youth groups. It can be downloaded at the LIFE TEEN site. LIFE TEEN invites families and parishes to join them Sunday evening in praying the Rosary for those affected by the shootings.

Lisa M. Hendey, wife and mother of two sons, is webmaster of Visit her at for additional information.


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