Life just got real for hundreds of students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
17 families did not welcome their child home yesterday afterschool.
A loving coach stood in the path of bullets to protect his students and now, posthumously, he is called a hero.
How do we talk to our children? How do we know if Johnny Smith down the street may be a threat? Can this happen to our children in our school, in our town?
How do we as a nation move forward and is there hope?
There are answers to each of these questions as well as solutions to preventing this from happening again.
Although we hear about these tragic mass shootings more frequently, rest assured that they are still rare events and it is highly unlikely that your child will have to endure such a tragedy.
Let’s start with “How do we talk with our children?” We must remember that what we do and how we act will affect them more than what we will say. Children read us and feel our insecurity. Get yourself together, wipe the tears and look confident when discussing events such as this with your family.
If you have children under the age of six remember, simple is better. Focus on the positives and the heroes. Talk about the brave first responders and those that survived because they listened, paid attention and were able to get out safely. Offer to pray for the families involved or write notes of encouragement to them. Then move on with your day and week and go have some fun with them for the weekend.
Elementary aged students may be a bit more curious. Still limit exposure to the news during this time. If they happen to see or hear it, remind them that this a rare event and they are safe at their school and at home. Take this as an opportunity to discuss the family secret word in case of an emergency, maybe practice a drill at home to be safe in case of an emergency and then talk about positive, happy memories and move the conversation forward.
Tween conversations can go a little bit deeper. Find out what they know. Seek them out and have a meaningful conversation about compassion and sympathy for the families. Speak the truth to them without, of course, the gory details.
Teen conversations can be taken to the next level and involve a deeper conversation. Ask them about it and then talk to them about solutions. This generation cares about social justice and finding real solutions. Now is a perfect time to discuss what that may look like.
Above all, reassure them and remind them how much they are loved.
If you are a parent, teacher or administrator use this as a good time to talk about student safety with your staff and school administrators. Go over shelter in place drills NEXT week-not directly after this type of event as it may cause unintentional grief and anxiety. But do review protocol in the coming days just as an added precaution.
The next question I have been asked is “How do we prevent Johnny from down the street from doing this at our school?”
My answer is simply this: Trust your instincts. If something seems out of the ordinary with a neighbor, your child’s friend or even your child, do not ignore it! Listed below is the profile of the majority of mass shooters:
- Consumed with rage or envy
- Socially awkward or an outcast
- History of emotional or physical abuse
- Self-centered, lack of empathy or compassion
- Obsessed with violence—movies, video games, etc
- Usually triggered by an event—job loss, break up, rejection
- Some will actually say, “I have a plan and I will carry it out”
- They feel powerless
If you see 4 or more of these in an individual on a regular basis, it is probably time to take the next step. This can include:
- Bringing it to the attention of a school resource officer
- Calling the school to let them know
- Talking to a school counselor or a licensed therapist
- Calling law enforcement and asking them if this should be a concern
- Call Child Protective Services and ask them if what you are observing is reportable
- Sit down with your teen and their electronic devices and go through it with them and talk about what they are looking at that may be a red flag
Whatever you do, do not ignore the above signs.
The last question I want to address is “How do we move on as a community and as a nation under God?”
We can discuss stricter gun laws all day and express our frustrations on social media, but what is that really going to accomplish? I believe it is time for us to be the change and take back control of our children and schools. We parents have more control over this moral decline we are in than we choose to believe. We as parents need to:
- Be PRESENT in our children’s lives
- Be INVOLVED at our children’s school
- TRUST but VERIFY when it comes to our children
- Know who their FRIENDS are
- Know what they are doing ONLINE
- Know their passwords to their devices and check them every single day (if I had my druthers, I would outlaw cell phones until they were able to purchase and pay for services themselves)
- TRUST our parental instincts
- Know when (and not be afraid to) get help
These few things alone would make a world of difference if even one parent reading this implemented these actions daily.
Since being proactive is such a necessity to prevent these mass shootings from happening, I am working with politicians on including more accurate and specific psychological testing for those individuals with a history of crimes due to severe mental instability. This is not, per se, just about mental illness nor is it about gun control. There are several patients of mine that deal with mild or moderate forms of mental illness that are more than capable of owning a firearm and acting responsibly. What I would like to see in a broader sense is the right hand talking to left and actually listening. Those who issue gun licenses need to be able to access minimal, yet pertinent information from mental health professionals. Minimal confidentiality may be breached, but I believe a program that bridges this gap will save lives and stop mass shootings like this latest in Florida.
Other research I am conducting is the effectiveness of armed teachers and administrators on school campuses. Continuing education and training would be required, confidentiality maintained on those armed would be a necessity, and partnering with law enforcement so armed personnel would be recognizable if ever there was a school incident, would be mandatory. There are solutions and I am dedicated to finding what those are.
Lastly, is there hope?
The United States of America is an incredible country and we are all blessed to reside here. We have great laws, checks and balances and passionate politicians who care about our children and also our Constitutional rights.
Many of our schools now have successful protocols in place thanks to all we have learned from past tragic events. There is a great sense of community in our cities and towns. We are good parents. We are passionate teachers. We are heroic first responders.
There is hope because Americans are survivors, heroes and patriots.
There is hope because we are citizens who are dedicated to keeping this country great.
There is hope because we are focused on solutions that will prevent evil from entering our schools if we are willing to make sacrifices, lead with respect and reach across the aisle.
There is hope because in our diversity there is common ground.
There is hope as long as our motto remains “In God we trust”.
In the midst of tragedy, we will mourn and grieve. And then we will compose ourselves, and stand shoulder to shoulder with those who need our love and support. Florida, we stand by you. God Bless.
Keep fighting the good fight!
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