I had the third post in my “Parenting Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Teens” series all ready… and then I checked the news. Right now, my mind is with the parents and students of Chardon High School in Ohio.
School shootings embody many of our worst nightmares. The deaths of innocent children. Violence and murder in a place we consider safe. And when the shooter is a student, we have the specter of someone who is not yet an adult, with enough pain and rage to kill his or her peers. The randomness of it is terrifying, as is the thought, Could that happen to my kid?
When I think of school shootings, the word that immediately jumps to my mind is “Columbine.” I was getting ready to graduate from college when we heard the news, and nobody could quite believe what had happened until days had gone by. Columbine High School, in 1999, was the deadliest high school shooting in history, and the perpetrators killed themselves, stealing away the question everybody wanted to ask: Why?
The Secret Service did a study on school shootings in 2002, and they discovered that we cannot “profile” school shooters. That is, we cannot take a certain child or teen, study them, and decide whether or not they will commit a school shooting.
Most school shooters weren’t from abusive homes. They had close friends. Their grades were good. They were mostly male, but there are no racial or ethnic similarities. The reasons surviving school shooters gave for their homicides vary from Kip Kinkel’s “I had no choice,” to John Woodham’s “I killed because people like me are mistreated every day,” to Brenda Spencer’s now-infamous “I don’t like Mondays.”
One of the worst parts of hearing about a school shooting is that it makes us feel so helpless. How can we make sure it never happens again? How can we made schools 100% safe? It’s why schools have put in metal detectors, politicans have argued for a limit to video game violence, and in Texas a school district even has its teachers carry guns to thwart possible student offenders. (None of these measures have been shown to be effective so far.)
So what can you do, faced with the news of this tragedy?
- Put the risk itself in perspective. In 2008, 5 teens were killed in middle or high school shootings. Also in 2008, almost 5,000 teens were killed in vehicular accidents, and approximately 4,500 committed suicide. You can’t learn to predict school shootings, but you can focus on preventable causes of death that are much more likely to put your teen in danger. For instance, you can keep talking to your teen about traffic safety, and be alert for signs of depression.
- Stories of school shootings can make teens feel unsafe or frightened. Invite them to discuss their feelings about the situation, and share yours. Remind them that school violence is very rare (more people are struck by lightning each year than killed at school), and that schools take a lot of care to prevent it. This article has a lot of good talking points. If your teen seems to be very affected by the news, consider having them talk to their school counselor or another mental health professional.
- Many school shooters were bullied. While the vast majority of individuals who are bullied do not commit acts of violence, it’s important for many reasons that both bullies and victims of bullying get help. You can help your own teen if they are bullied; work with your school district/ PTA to ensure that any bullying is taken seriously and stopped, with both the offender and the victim getting counseling; or research organizations and their activities and curriculums.
- Most school shooters have been found, either before or after the shooting, to have symptoms of a diagnosable mental illness. It’s vital that all the kids in our communities have access to mental health resources. Support policies that provide health insurance to all kids, including mental health coverage, as well as giving your support to local community mental health agencies.
- School shootings by their very nature involve guns. No matter what your stance is on gun control, I think we can all agree that guns should be kept away from people who might use them to injure other innocent people- or themselves. We ran a post last week about guns that is worth reading (and, ironically and unfortunately, came from another school shooting.)
No doubt the media will give us every particular of the shooting at Chardon High in the days to come. Remember to turn off the TV, radio, computer, etc., and spend some quality time bonding with your teen. Go for ice cream, watch a stupid movie, take a walk in the sun, order pizza, have a game night. This is a time to mourn, but also a time to be thankful for your kid.