Protecting our children

School shooters. Something that no one ever dreamed we would have to discuss. Something that has shaken every community in the country. Something that every American prays will never happen again. But how do we prevent this? There is no magic answer. There is no distinct profile on a school shooter. There is no foolproof way to keep our children safe, but I bet if I asked any person reading this, everyone would agree that if they could do something to help stop a school shooting, they would do it.

I’m writing this article not because I think I have all the answers (I wish I did), but because if even one of these tips helps you identify a child prone to violence, it will be well worth the time spent. So here they are:

  • Develop lines of trust with your children by opening lines of communication with them. Ask them if there are kids at school who talk about bringing guns or other weapons to school, or who have odd behavior or seem sad or depressed. If your child brings up a legitimate concern, call the school or the police department to report it.
  • Talk about how important emergency drills are with your kids. Make sure they understand how essential it is to take emergency drills seriously and to listen to their teacher’s direction. Our goal is not to scare your children but to prepare them. If your children have anxiety over the drills, talk to them on a regular basis, reminding them that a drill or a real situation may happen at any time at school, and they need to be prepared for when it does. Encourage them to talk to their teachers/SROs/principals about their safety ideas and concerns.
  • Pay attention to what is going on with your child. Are they obsessed with violence? Do they talk about killing or building bombs? Do their writings or drawings involve violence? Do they have access to guns? If your child fits in this description, it doesn’t mean they will be a school shooter. It is, however, a concern that should be communicated to a mental health professional and the school immediately.
  • Eliminate easy access to guns. Your guns are only secure if a child, using every tool in a tool box, can’t get to them. Even if your child is trustworthy, their peers or the people in your neighborhood might not be.
  • Monitor your child’s activities. Know your child’s friends. Know where they go and what they do. Know what websites they visit and what they are posting. I know it is sometimes hard to be the parent who “snoops,” but what if you didn’t and you missed something serious? Kids are often posting and texting personal information about depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol and drug involvement, bullying, violence and so many other things… What if you didn’t check their electronics and you missed this? I understand there needs to be a balance between building trust with your child and invading their privacy. It is better, however, to be the parent who knows what their child is doing than to be the parent trying to explain later why you didn’t know when the information was accessible to you.
  • If the school is concerned about your child, PAY ATTENTION! Teachers work daily on issues that don’t trigger a phone call home. When they do contact you, it is because they are concerned and need your help. It may be a false alarm, or it may be life or death.
  • Don’t lie to protect your child. Don’t lie to get them out of a situation they got themselves into. If they did something wrong that was dangerous, admit they may need help and accept the resources given to you to attain this. It may be hard for a parent to hear that their child has some issues that need addressing, but it is essential that those issues are not ignored.
  • Punishment is not prevention. If you find that your child has an obsession with violence, you will not be able to punish it out of them. Violence is a deep-rooted issue that will not go away with a typical consequence. You can and should do what is best for them and for others, and that is to seek professional help.

This is just a small amount of information to share. Understand that communicating with your child is perhaps the strongest prevention we have against the disaster of school shootings.

Let’s all do what we can to keep our children and our community safe. Let’s focus not on blaming others for what has happened, but on preventing it from happening.

(Melissa Westby is the School Resource Officer for Carl Ben Eielson Middle School and Woodrow Wilson High School. She can be reached at westbym@fargo.k12.nd.us.)

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