No one can deny that as parents we live in a different world than when we grew up. Cell phones, email, internet and social media were not typical, even nonexistent, in our household. While there has always been a degree of violence or threat in our schools, these topics have taken parenting to a different level.
I personally grew up in a middle-class neighborhood but had threats of gang violence at my school on occasion. These threats came from word of mouth and not spread rapidly across the community through social media as they are today. I was usually the one to inform my parents after school or perhaps a letter was mailed and received a few days later. I grew up with earthquake drills where my kids have lockout and lockdown drills beginning in grade school.
Only a few days ago, my children's school district received multiple threats of violence via email, phone and social media over the course of two days prompting a lockout throughout the school district. Many children were picked up early or parents chose not to send their kids to school at all. The fears of Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine and the many other school shootings crossed every parent's thoughts. As a parent, how do we not allow fear to consume us as we send our children to school each day? What kind of society do we live in where families are fearful of school shootings and the chance of a real threat taking place?
I won't get into the politics in this article as that alone is a long debate. The threats and fears are real and already exist regardless of political or personal stance. How can I prepare as a parent and my children for this threat today? I certainly don't have all the answers, but I can do my best as a parent.
Most schools have zero tolerance for bullying. In an article posted January 2018 on educationcorner.com, the following statistics were reported:
- 86% of students surveyed said, "other kids picking on them, making fun of them or bullying them" is the number one reason that teenagers turn to lethal violence at school.
- Nearly 75% of school shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying.
- 87% of students surveyed report that bullying is the primary motivator school shootings.
As a parent, I am subtly but constantly inquiring about my kid's social life in and outside of school. When I hear about someone being picked on riding the bus home or in class, we talk about it further. I advocate my kids not participate and even stop the situation. I ask them how they would feel if that were them being picked on and, yes, we discuss school shootings and how bullying can lead to increased risk and violence.
This also includes their social media chats, posts, comments and video game play. Kids are brazen in their commenting on posts today. Words that are posted and hidden behind the temporary safety of a cell phone are not always words that may be used in person. I am lucky my daughter will share some of her social media posts although usually not without a little prodding or creative questioning on my part. Again, discuss the situations where someone is hurt by posted comments or any signs of social bullying. Do not ignore and assume that because your child was not directly involved there is nothing to be concerned with. As parents and as a community, we also have an obligation to stop the behavior and help our children. Discuss with fellow parents or notify the school if the signs call for it.
We want our children to go to school to learn, be book smart. We also need to teach our children street smarts. After lockout or lockdown drills and with the most recent threats, we discuss what it means to be aware of their surroundings. Not only visually but also through social media posts, rumors and what's being said by other students around them. They need to know it's okay to tell us or report something that doesn't seem right to the school. It's better for something to be false or a hoax than taking the risk of not reporting something that turns out to be true.
We want our children to maintain their innocence and purity for as long as possible. This doesn't mean we ignore the facts and pretend school violence doesn't exist. As parents we need to prepare our children for reality. As my children get older, the degree of our discussions on school violence issues get deeper. When my children were 8, we talked about being nice and telling the teachers or principal when other kids weren't nice. Now at 14, we talk about these school shootings, being aware, stopping any bullying and reporting situations or comments that don't seem right. While it's still a scary world we live in, I can only try to do my part as a parent to ready them for it.
* The information above is the opinion of the writer and not meant as professional advice.