Skip to main content

When the news is awful

By Kathryn Sharpe

A girl sitting on the floor looking glum
There are days when it hurts just to be human. Days when turning on the news fills me with dread. And these days I want to somehow shelter my child and the young people in my life from the heartbreaking reality that surrounds us in our world.

Yet young people are growing up in this world and need to learn how to navigate these issues and still keep their full humanity: war in Israel and Palestine, climate devastation, migrant deaths, unearthing children’s graves at Native residential boarding schools, school shootings and police violence, among so many others. And youth often feel them even more intensely than we do as adults.

So rather than shielding them, we best serve young people by helping them in an age-appropriate way to digest the issue in their minds and bodies. In another blog, I offered guidance for adults on ways to manage hard conversations and issues when they arise. But how can we help youth process the world’s and their own pain when they feel it in their hearts and bodies? 

As caring adults we can help young people in our lives learn to process suffering, whether their own or someone else’s, while keeping their hearts open and compassionate. Compassion is "the warm-hearted concern that unfolds when we witness the suffering of others and feel motivated to relieve it".  Compassion is caring and proactive, and it does not mean taking on the suffering of others in a way that can become distressing or overwhelming.

How can we do this?

  • We can play an important role as co-regulators with youth. If we can start by managing our own emotional response of grief or fear, we can help young people around us to regulate themselves, as well.
  • As humans, our ability to stay grounded in compassion is largely influenced by our vagus nerve, a key part of our central nervous system that facilitates our sense of connectedness with others. We can cultivate compassion and our ability to hold complexity by using deep belly breathing. That doesn’t seem realistic with youth in your life? Deep belly laughter stimulates it, too.
  • Encourage opportunities for them to discharge the stress/trauma. This can be through physical exercise, sports, music, crying, talking, art or writing. Remember to play and share in their play. Let them know that joy is essential, too, without guilt.
  • Mindfulness is a powerful tool for dealing with strong emotions and helping us to keep our heart open. For some young people, sitting meditation can feel scary or uncomfortable, especially if they have experienced trauma. Mindfulness through activities may be more accessible–those that are movement-based, such as walking meditation or a more active form of yoga, or activities that naturally create a space of focused attention such as art, crafts, or some sports.
  • Limit repeated media exposure, if at all possible. For youth with their own devices, create times for them to disconnect and be present with others around them or the natural world.   
  • Support compassionate engagement. Help young people find a way to take action to make even a small difference on the issue they are concerned about. This can reduce feelings of helplessness or hopelessness and fosters a sense of empowerment which can actually encourage them to stay compassionate. Young people are born attuned to the suffering of others. They only become apathetic if they get overwhelmed or learn that they are powerless to do anything about it.

When the world’s events seem overwhelming to the young people in your life, how can you support them to stay grounded and compassionate?

-- Kathryn Sharpe, Extension educator

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Print Friendly and PDF


  1. Thank you, Kathryn, for such a timely and relatable message. One thing I do when working with older youth in programs is to allow authentic conversations to happen. For example, if a youth brings up a hard topic, rather than trying to end it as quickly as possible, I try to foster a space for youth to have open conversation. Sometimes youth are more comfortable having conversations on hard topics with folks outside their family. Letting youth express their thoughts and fears is important. A key to that approach, however, as you mention, is being capable of modeling healthy emotional regulations and coaching youth on how to do the same.

    Nothing about this work is easy, but we as youth workers are well positioned to do our part in creating a compassionate world, even when the world doesn't feel compassionate.

    1. Courtney, I absolutely agree! I focused more on how to approach those conversations in a previous blog so I didn't focus on them as much in this one, but they are absolutely essential. It is so humanly necessary to be able to be heard, and it is so honoring to take young people's thoughts, feelings and experiences seriously. I will never forget when I was teaching a class in the mid-afternoon at a high school on 9/11 when the terrorist attacks happened, and I just circled up the youth to talk and journal about what the were feeling. They all told me that not a single other teacher had even talked about what was happening. Not a single teacher. We as caring adults have the opportunity to create that space for and with young people. Thanks for being so dedicated to that work.

  2. Powerful reflection Kathryn, thank you for sharing that story.

    1. Thanks, Kathryn, for the post. I like the term "co-regulators" and hadn't heard that before. I think it's import to share our honest reactions with kids and talk through what we're feeling and thinking. Often for me, this means admitting to them that I don't have the answers and am also struggling getting to grips with whatever is happening. I have found that this makes it easier for kids to share with me in turn, which is a very healthy place to be, I think.

  3. Thanks for posting such a thoughtful piece Kathryn with wonderful tools that we can use today! I especially love the link to mindfulness exercises that can be accessible to youth who have experienced trauma. Before joining Extension I worked with "tender" youth in many of my elective high school English classes, in the library, and in an after school credit recovery program. I wanted mindfulness to be accessible to these youth and so often I would "invite" the kids to join in ways that kept them feeling safe, and shared that there could be many reasons for why "close your eyes" is not a safe directive for youth. These activities are awesome, and will be something I experiment while working with youth and adults. And, I love that you are a Greater Good fellow fan! I sometimes feel like I'm a Greater Good "groupie!"

    1. Amy, I so appreciate you sharing your perspective and experiences, and your framing of working with "tender" youth. It sounds like you did a very skillful job of weaving in mindfulness throughout your roles with young people, as well as bringing whole-hearted approach to working with youth. Being able to be present with young people in a hard moment, allowing them to share and not feel alone, can itself be a lived experience of mindfulness if we pay full attention to them and help them regulate. I, too, am so grateful for resources like Greater Good, and glad you discovered them, as well!


Post a Comment