South Los Angeles residents Scott and LaKesha Ashley with their three children. (Courtesy photo)

The stream of tough topics for parents to explain can feel unending: social unrest, hate crimes, natural disasters … the pandemic. Many children and teens have struggled to process what they see at school, in their neighborhoods, and on the news.

South Los Angeles residents Scott and LaKesha Ashley confront this challenge during family time with their three children, who range in age from 9 to 21 years old, every Wednesday evening.

“Being able to sit down and be open with each other is vital because it draws us closer. There are no secrets, no hidden agenda,” LaKesha said. “The quality is what’s important. Sometimes we talk for just five, ten minutes, and a whole new discussion is opened.”

Weekly family time was a crucial resource during the summer of 2020, as tensions erupted over public protests across the country. “A lot of people were getting angry,” 21-year-old Jalen recalled. “But we had that discussion as a family. It helped me a lot personally.”

In an ever-changing and challenging world, experts recommend regular family discussions to help young ones build resilience.

“Good communication is essential for a child’s survival in this world,” said James Wright, a California-based family counselor and conflict resolution mediator. “Why not have a family discussion once a week and talk about what’s going on in your lives?”

The Ashleys are not alone in holding regular family discussions. For nearly two decades, the families of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world have been encouraged to make “family worship” an uninterrupted weekly routine.

“For many of our families, their weekly discussions are among the most important hours of the week,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “It has brought thousands of our families closer together and helped children feel safe and loved.”

In 2009, Jehovah’s Witnesses reduced their midweek meetings from two to one, freeing up an evening each week for families to enjoy more time together.

“Meeting in large groups for worship is a Bible command, but the Bible also tells parents to make time to talk with their kids,” Hendriks said. “The change to our weekly meetings helped families to prioritize unhurried Bible discussions tailored to their needs.”

For the Cariagas in Lomita, California, their weekly discussion provided a time to promptly address racism when their three girls saw news reports about hate crimes targeting their Asian community.

“The articles on about prejudice and the video about anxiety were really helpful,” said mom Lorrie Cariaga, referencing free resources on the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, where they often turn to practical and scriptural solutions to family concerns.

Along with serious topics, the Cariagas mix singing, dramatic performances, and hiking in their family worship together. “Family time is like an open space; it’s relaxed, and it’s always fun,” Sophie said, at 14.

Family nights are a treasured time for the Ashleys as well. “It’s so important to keep honest and open communication lines,” Scott said. “Having that time to talk and reflect is invaluable.”