The media is full of mass shooting stories because we have too many in this country. This kind of media coverage breeds anxiety for all of us as we think about public exposure like going to the mall, the bank and yes even to our schools. Although school shootings are a lot less frequent than the mass shootings, there can be a great deal of anxiety for parents as they consider the threat of an active shooter in the school where their child attends.
For the most part these anxieties are more prominent in parents than they are in kids. Depending on the exposure to news and media, kids typically are not as fearful or aware as their parents are. Particularly with younger children they are not as reactive since they are more consumed with their own life issues rather than a shooter coming into their schools. As they grow and develop mentally into teenage years, those anxieties can become more apparent.
What does happen is that children can sense the anxiety in their parents. This anxiety transference is really what can be high alert to them. They will have a level of awareness even if they do not understand all the issues and nuances of what an active shooter can mean. Further many students are participating in active shooter drills in their schools which also can be confusing and sometimes scary depending on what they are told about it. Unfortunately, these are the realities that our children face and parents need to be very aware of their impact.
It is extremely important that parents are protective of what children perceive. They need to be self-regulated about it, having other support and individuals to whom they can express their fears and concerns. It may be important for some parents to limit the amount of media coverage they watch on mass shootings. It can consume us and then we are in a constant emotional state of high alert which will be picked up by our children.
It is also important that parents have realistic and calm discussions about this topic. When discussing active shooter drills make sure that it is clearly described as a safety issue just like fire drills. Help them understand that it is done for safety, preparedness and for “just in case” circumstances that are not that frequent when considering how many schools we have in America. Also, if they hear that any of their friends are struggling emotionally, a way to care for that friend is by telling a parent or another adult.
One way to figure out our kids concerns and fears is to simply ask if they have any questions. As they ask questions parents need to provide common sense answers that are concrete, descriptive and not dramatic or vague. It is not healthy to completely ignore the topic but to approach it with what a parent intuitively believes their child can handle without over-reactions and undue fear. The best posture is to be calm and confident in how parents answer questions so that they create that same sense of calm.
It is truly sad that we must have these discussions at all, but for the emotional and relational health of our children we can offer a level of comfort for what could be anxiety-provoking so that we prevent fear and provide a caring, safe and confident perspective to our kids.