I picked up my phone and saw the top stories of the day. One headline stood out: Mass Shooting in a Florida High School. I have to admit that I put my phone down and stopped reading. Immediately I asked myself:
Did I just become desensitized? What is going on with me? I am a family therapist!
It’s second nature for me to be connected and feel empathy for the loss of life. It wasn’t that I wasn’t feeling empathy for the loss of life, it’s that I felt disturbed that we are hearing much too often about the news of mass shooters and the loss of innocent lives.
As I took it in the next day, I realized that my two older kids, a high schooler, and a middle schooler, would very likely hear about it at school – or they likely already knew about it from social media. I thought about how I would talk to my boys about this Florida school tragedy.
Like many parents across our country I was left wondering what more can I do to protect my kids from school violence? At minimum I knew it was important to have a conversation with them. So, I started like this…
Did you hear what happened in Florida at a high school?
“Yes mom, my teacher talked about it in our class.”
I was feeling a little relieved that maybe I didn’t have to explain the gory details about the death toll and the tragedy that unfolded. I pointed out that even though this incident was terrible in nature and that it feels as if we are hearing about mass shootings more often than not, there are more good people in the world than bad. I reminded them that whenever they see or hear something suspicious in their school to go with their gut and tell an adult. “It’s not called snitching,” I emphasized. It’s saving lives if it can be stopped.
As you start or continue your own conversation with your kids about school violence, here are five things to remember when talking to kids and teens about mass shootings.
Allow time to talk over dinner or your drive home after school about what they heard or saw regarding a mass shooting. This helps kids get their questions answered and as a parent you can clarify some questions and process the incident together. Don’t allow your own fears and paranoia to be transferred to your kids. Stay calm and Listen!
For younger kids be mindful about the news on TV. Staying glued to the TV to get updates about what is happening can cause the younger members of the family to feel worried and many times they think it’s happening in their own city or school. Your tone of voice and constant talking about the news can place fear in young kids. Identify your own fears with a trusted adult or a spouse.
Validate your teen or child’s feelings. Say things like, “I hear you…it’s scary to hear news like this.” or “I understand not wanting to go to school right now because you are worried.”
Remember, you don’t need to tell your kids the details about the event unless they bring it up and want to talk about it. The Sandy Hook Elementary community, where 26 children and educators died in a similar fashion as the Florida shootings sought meaning in advocacy. Many parents channeled their sadness and grief by doing charity work and raising money to help prevent violence in schools.
If you believe in prayer, pray together as a family for the victims and their families. If your kids are open or interested in sending a card or letter with your condolences to the school where a mass shooting occurred it sometimes helps processing the events and it teaches kindness for others.
Remember, keep yourself in check as a parent. Our own fears can get transferred to our kids and could promote unhealthy anxiety and fears about going to school. For the most part, schools are safe and being around peers is important for kids. As a family, choose to prevent violence and spread love. LOVE should always WIN!