Today I picked up my kids from school, which seems like a normal mundane thing to do, but the reality is that today 19 families will *not* be picking their kids up from school. Since the 1990s, a total of 430 families have had a loved one enter a school and not come home due to school violence. Over the next few weeks, there will be talk about changing gun laws, addressing mental health, missed warning signs, timelines, and beefing up security at schools: all sorts of shoulda, woulda, and coulda's. The news will fade, and we will return to life as we know it (as we always have) until the next news cycle. There will be lots of talk about how to protect our kids and what should have been done. The talking heads will dissect every angle of this tragedy until there are no more fingers to point.
The reality is this:
Since 2017, guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens in America.1
In 4 out of 5 school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it.2 Almost all mass school shooters shared threatening or concerning messages or images prior to the incident. More than 75% raised concerns from others prior to the attacks.3
We live in a society where our children are taught to run, hide, and fight the same way I practiced fire and tornado drills growing up in the Midwest. While teaching and implementing protective measures are common in most American schools today, it is nearly impossible to find what preventative measures schools currently have in place for our young children. So what’s a parent to do when we drop off our most precious gift?
Changing access to schools, enacting safety laws, and increasing security on school campuses are well-meaning, but the reality is that prevention starts at home. A study conducted by the United States Secret Service found that most school shooters did not keep their plans to themselves, the warning signs were there but ignored or brushed aside as “they’re just a weird kid.” Knowing that these tragedies could have been prevented if someone had leaned in or spoken out is heartbreaking. There are two African proverbs that always come to my mind when the news is filled with suffering and pain:
“A child that is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth;”
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
We have all probably heard the latter and repeated it often when speaking of our intentions – but how often do we actually practice it? We know the power of meaningful connection and how just one meaningful connection can change the outcome for youth. Do we recognize the part that we can play?
Be the Village
If we want our children to grow up in a world where they feel safe and connected, it starts with us.
Listen: We must start hearing what our children are saying, and go beyond just the words that are coming out of their mouths. What is the need they are trying to get met by their behavior? Focusing on the unmet needs of our children as early as possible prevents maladaptive coping to address the need they are trying to get met.
Connect: Growing up in a world prior to cellphones, I remember how often I would forget my house key and have to wait outside the house for one of my parents to come home. Living in the Midwest, you didn’t want to wait for too long in the winter. Thankfully, I had an observant neighbor who would reach out and allow us to use the phone – and eventually, a friendship grew, so we had a place to land if needed. The world is very different now, but it’s important to know those around us. If we are connected and tuned in, we can see the signs and address them. Knowing that most mass shooters left a trail explaining what they planned to do and that there were signs leading up to the tragedy, imagine what could have been prevented if someone had connected sooner and provided a meaningful connection that would have allowed them to get the support they needed.
Kindness Always Wins: We live in a world where we spend more time online connected to those far away, so much so that we have created a divide amongst those closest to us. We spend more time arguing based on someone’s perceived politics or attacking those we barely know anonymously online. We spend more time creating a narrative of “us vs them” for strangers based on the limited information that they share. We jump on the bandwagon of “canceling” each other because we have forgotten the act of compassionate disagreement. Teaching our children early to treat everyone we encounter with dignity and worth is the most basic prevention method we can employ. If I can truly see the person in front of me and provide safety in the form of kindness, it helps them to know they are worthy. Kindness is contagious but so is hate. If we are going to spread one, wouldn’t you choose to spread kindness?
“A child that is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” At what point do we realize that we have to be the village that embraces all of its children in order for us to thrive and continue to grow?
I picked my kids up today, while 19 families did not – and I pray that tomorrow, no other family has to go through the pain of waiting to hear if their loved one, their child, is the next victim.
Be the village.
1. Lee, L. K., Douglas, K., & Hemenway, D. (2022). Crossing lines — a change in the leading cause of death among U.S. children. New England Journal of Medicine, 386(16), 1485–1487. https://doi.org/10.1056/nejmp2200169
2. Vossekuil, et al, 2002
3. 16 facts about gun violence and school shootings. Sandy Hook Promise. (2022, May 25). from https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/gun-violence/16-facts-about-gun-violence-and-school-shootings/