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Talking about School Violence


Yesterday, there was a student shooting at one of our local  high schools. It is only the second week of the school year. A physical altercation occurred before three gun shots rang out. This incident occured between classes, located in the catwalk that divides the campus. The catwalk is a fenced-in "bridge" that connects two parts of campus that has a main street running through it. 

The congregation that I work at is only a couple of blocks down the road. We knew something was immediately wrong when a string of police, EMS, and fire-workers went flying by.  As a result, several of the local elementary, middle and high schools enacted their shelter-in-place orders just in case this was not an isolated incident. Unfortunately, this specific incident was related to the physical altercation and was not an open ended shooting. But it still hurts. 

While we all agree that school is supposed to be a safe place, the reality, it is not. From Columbine in '99 (I was in high school then), to the many many incidents over the years, violence- guns, bombs, etc have been on the rise. 

I often wonder what prompts a student, such as the one from yesterday, to become angry enough to whip out the gun and shoot it? Never mind that it's at school- just in general! This teen was only 15 years old too. 

We know that our students have drills. We know that our teachers and administrators go through many many hours of training. We trust in our school administrators, we trust our teachers, we trust our students to make the safest choices possible, but sometimes, violence occurs. 

I'm offering a safe space for my students to gather together and talk tonight. Talking about violence is hard. There are no answers, whether you are from a faith-based background or not. There is no way to understand the sin and evil that is in this world. 

As parents and caring adults, it can be hard to discuss violence with our young ones. I encourage you to do so- but first, check your own anxieties. What are your fears and concerns? How can you address them before opening up conversation with your young ones? 

Some of our young ones won't want to talk. They are internal processors. Some will make jokes, because that is their coping mechanism (trust me, I see this with my middle school students). Some will be straight-up, matter of fact, surprising you or taking you off guard. Don't push your students too hard, but do let them know you are there for support, to answer questions, and to provide a loving atmosphere. 

Tips for talking to your child/ teen: 

Review the school's action plan before school begins. If you haven't done this yet, do so. Whether it's for violence, weather, or other intrusion, go ahead and talk about it now. Know your school's action plan for shootings, intruders, etc. What does lock-down look like? What does evacuation look like? In the land of cell phones, it's easier to stay in contact, but for those of us who grew up without them, we remember the agony of trying to reconnect to our parents even after a concert, let along a violent tragedy.  Talk to your student about these plans so that each of you are not panicking when it takes several hours to reunite. In our case, students were evacuated to the middle school, then had to go through the processes of safe dismissal before they could actually leave. 

Allow your child to ask questions and take the lead on the conversation. Allow your student the chance to ask questions- don't put questions in their head for them. They could be in a totally different space than you and are trying to figure out the words to say what they are thinking/ feeling. Some of the questions might be easy, some might be hard. Do your best to reassure your student (especially young ones), that they are safe, but if you don't know how to answer, admit it. Then find out the answer together. 

Observe your child's behavior in the days following the incident. Everyone reacts differently to tragedy and violence. Only you know your child and whether or not you need to seek further counseling or help.

Talk to your child/ teen about their own feelings of safety. What makes them feel threatened? Who can they go to in school if they notice something or feel uncomfortable? Do they notice changes in their friends or classmates behaviors? If so, don't ignore it. 

Try to maintain a normal routine. Don't watch too much news reports of the violence or talk about it too much because it will continue to swirl those feelings of anxiety, feels of distrust, and feeling unsafe. It's okay to talk about the incident, but limit how much- especially if its a larger scale incident. We know from Columbine, from Sandy Hook, and from Parkland FL, that those incidents stay in the media for a very long time, which can be difficult for students (and parents). Keeping a normal routine with sleep, play, exercise, eating habits is also very important. 

Finally, if you feel out of your league, call in a professional. In the world we live in, there is a stigma to counselors, but honestly, they help. A lot. Counselors can interact with our students and families in ways that we can't even think of- as they help discover the true roots of anxiety. Connect with your school's counselor, your doctor, your friends/family to find the ways to answer those hard questions. 

School violence is hard to think about, especially in the happy go lucky days of returning back to school. With anxieties on an all time high due to the climate in our country, it's important that you stay connected to your child. Don't ignore them if you sense something is wrong, but give them a safe space to ask the important questions. Even if it's not related to violence, they could be worried about Covid, about quarantine, about.. well, anything. 


1 comment

  1. You have some great tips. This seems to be more and more common anymore.


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