HOUSTON, TX - With our hearts breaking as we watch the unbearable news about another teen shooting in a school close to home, we ask the same question. Why? What is happening that another teen deliberately makes a plan, posts it on social media, and methodically kills anyone in his destructive path? Why didn’t parents step in sooner and try to intervene to prevent this tragedy? Can we prevent it? Or do we have to become accustomed to school being a dangerous place?
Mental health experts, as well as crime and social science experts, remind us that all violence is not the same. This complicates the matter with some violence being due to impulsive behavior, drug use, mental illness, revenge, or disconnect. Many of these mass school shootings will never have a single reason for such violence. However, there are things parents can do to help their children not use violence as a solution. Children are greatly influenced by the actions and words of their parent or guardians. When a child becomes disconnected from the people who are supposed to love and nurture them the most, anger, depression, and hopelessness become their reality.
- Kids become more violent when there is a disconnect from family and friends. When kids aren’t connected, they care less about their personal welfare and are more likely to be aggressive or violent in the community. Kids need to be grounded by common beliefs and values.
- How parents and peers can help. Parents and friends can help by including everyone. Encourage your child to join activities. When they’re young, get them outside and have friends over. If you know of a child who is marginalized, invite them to join you for events. Instead of excluding children who are different than you, reach out to them and get to know them; be curious about them.
- Kids who are desensitized to death or killing show an increase in violence. U.S. surveys report that, on average, a child has watched over 200,000 graphic violent acts on TV or social media by the time they are 18. Combine this with popular violent video games where children see people getting blown up, decapitated, or set on fire. Numerous school shooting can also have a desensitizing effect on our young children.
- How parents can help. Limit the violence in your home. Be present when your children are home with their friends and don’t allow them to make violent comments or behave aggressively toward others. Model respect and create a violence-free home.
- Be aware of kids who are infatuated with guns, bombs, or violent techniques. Many children have access to guns. The availability of firearms increases the probability of lethal shootings as a solution to a child’s frustration and anger.
- How parents can help. If you have firearms in your home, make sure they are securely locked. Talk to your children about firearms, violence, and the value of human life. If you feel your child has a problem, do more than tell yourself they’ll grow out of it. Tune into their social media. Sit down with them and talk. Teens often understand social media much more than parents so don’t be fooled. They may have numerous accounts under false identities. Get involved in the school, talk to your child’s teacher regarding counseling (the school has counselors they can recommend), talk to your church leaders, and get your child help. There is no excuse that will comfort you after a lethal action is committed by your child.
- How peers can help. If you see social media posts or hear specific peers talking about shooting, making bombs, killing people, or destroying someone’s life, speak up. Don’t keep that sort of information to yourself. Understand that this person is mentally ill and hurting. It’s not wrong or dishonorable if you speak up to protect others. It is the most courageous thing anyone could do.
- When a family or institution allows hateful ideologies that label others as inferior, violence increases. Violence is correlated with hate – hate for different races, religions, gender, or income status. High schools form cliques and there are misunderstandings and judgments. Feeling misunderstood and dejected can lead to hate.
- How peers and parents can help. Practice respect. Learn more about cultures and religions you don’t understand. Don’t laugh at jokes that use hate as the punchline and don’t repeat them. Don’t make fun of people in your home for their culture or the way they look. If you see someone being degraded, stand up for them.
Don’t allow the Santa Fe shooting to harden your heart. We are not helpless. We may not be able to personally change or create new laws, but we can change the environment in our homes and schools by modeling healthy behaviors. Parents are the barometers for their children. When parents practice good coping skills for anger and frustration, children learn. If you’re a student concerned about a classmate, be brave enough to tell your parents or someone who can help. It’s the honorable thing to do.
Credit: Psychotherapist, Mary Jo Rapini