By Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C, CT
It happened again. Another school shooting. This time 17 victims have been murdered — shot and killed in a Florida high school. As a parent, and a clinician, I personally struggle with this issue. I question how violence of this magnitude continues to happen in America’s classrooms while, simultaneously, it feels like nothing is changing.
There is a significant amount of information available directing parents on how to help their children process what is happening and help them feel secure. However, after we’ve helped our kids, how do we process our own fears and emotions surrounding senseless violence?
Much of parenting is about learning to tolerate the uncertainty and the anxiety over the safety of our children. We must remind ourselves that we do the very best that we can each and every day to keep our kids safe and to protect them. There are times when we may feel overwhelmed with this task, which is to be expected given our current climate. If you, like me, sometimes struggle with how to make sense of it all, here are a few tips that might help.
- If you see something, say something. We tell this to our children all the time, but sometimes neglect to follow it ourselves. If something doesn’t feel right, look right, or seem right, it’s worth a second look. This includes anything you see in person as well as on social media. Do not second guess your own instincts. Reach out to those in positions of authority with these concerns.
- Limit your access to news and social media. We live in a world where live news is available 24 hours a day on television, news updates are regularly pushed to our phones and news fills the feeds on our social media accounts. It’s hard to separate from the news, even when you make a concerted effort. Technology is wonderful in that it keeps us connected and keeps us current. Like too much of many things, oversaturation can be harmful. Just as you limit screen time for your own children, know when it’s time for you to take a break.
- Process your feelings. Issues of this magnitude, particularly when it comes to the safety of our kids, can weigh heavily on us. It’s important that you process whatever it is that you’re feeling with a trusted family member, friend or professional, particularly if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you aren’t going to be able to take care of your children.
- Take action. Taking action is personal and can mean different things to different people. It isn’t enough to stand by idly – if you’re looking for change, waiting for someone else to take action isn’t an option. Talking to those in your community who share the same values as you is a good place to start. Figure out the best place to begin – it may be your neighborhood, your school, your local government or your place of business. Remember that even small steps can make a difference.
- Pay attention to what your kids are doing and who they are doing it with. Have regular conversations with your own children about your values and your priorities, specifically surrounding safety and violence. Know who your kids are spending their time with, what they are doing and where they are doing it. Remind your kids that violence is unacceptable and model positive ways of resolving conflicts in your own life. When encountering acts of violence directly or second hand, process the situation with your kids. Talk with them to understand their perspective and give them the tools to empower themselves and speak up.
- Know your resources. Do your research to know what support is available in your community both for yourself and others. This includes, but is not limited to, mental health resources, law enforcement support and community action groups.
- Be present. Acts of this nature serve as a reminder to live our lives to their fullest and cherish each day we have. Do your very best to be present in the moment and not let fear overcome you. Keeping your own routine as regular as possible will help you maintain balance and prevent you from acting out of fear.
- Be kind. In our success driven society, kindness sometimes takes a back seat. Make sure your children know that this is a value your family strongly upholds each and every day and set a good example for them to follow. Remind your kids that an act of kindness can make all of the difference and ensure that your family is living in a way that embodies this value. Being kind is simple, costs you nothing and can have a ripple effect in society.
When violence like this happens, again and again, it becomes more important than ever not to accept it as normal or become desensitized to the tragedy. As parents, and caring members of our community, we have to remember that we can always do something. There is always a way to care for our children and ourselves, at whatever level you feel comfortable, to move forward and move the issue forward.
When dealing with a subject as serious as this one, it’s ironic that a quote from comedian Lily Tomlin seems to sum it up perfectly: “I said “Somebody should do something about that.” Then I realized I am somebody.”
Because children don’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.
By Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C, CT utilizes her social work skills in a variety of ways at JCS, providing parenting, community outreach and bereavement services.