I must admit. It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have, but I knew I had to. As I sat with my 14 year old daughter playing Scrabble® and trying not to get beat too badly, I felt the Holy Spirit urging me to bring it up.
No, not drugs, peer pressure, or even the current state of her bedroom-disaster-area. Of course those are important topics…but not as important as the one that is haunting the hearts of minds of every teen in America like a ghost in the darkness.
“Am I safe?”
“What if someone comes into my school with a gun?”
“Why do people do things like that?”
So with a quick prayer and an even quicker plan of action, I simply asked her this:
“Honey, did the school shootings make you nervous or scared about going to school?”
Now as every parent of teenagers knows, there are pretty good odds that this question (or most in fact) could get a one word response, or perhaps even just a grunt of some sort. But, praise God, this was not the case. In fact, my simple lead-in led to an amazing in-depth dialogue about the emotions that tragedies bring, the issue of safety in schools, and even why evil people in an evil world do evil things.
The really surprising thing to me was that it was a great help to me as well, because the aerial images over Platte Canyon High School rewound my emotions to Columbine in an instant. So talking these issues through with my teenager was a tool God used to help close the reopened wounds.
You know what? I don’t think I’m alone. Most parents probably feel a bit under equipped to approach and process a subject that ignites such a huge bandwidth of emotions and leaves students with a general sense of anxiety of fear. And too complicate things further, most people from my generation were shocked when someone had a knife on campus. We couldn’t have even imagined school shootings, bombings, and molestation in what was previously considered a safe haven in society.
If this is you, please take heart, and allow me to pass along a few bits of advice that might be useful when you go down the same road with your children.
Suggestion #1- Don’t make guarantees
In my heart of hearts I wanted to promise and pledge as an absolute that nothing like that could ever happen at her school…but I would be absolutely wrong to do that. No matter what policies and procedures are put in place, a nut job with a gun can still do just about anything he wants. However…and this a BIG however… it is highly unlikely that your son and/or daughter will ever go through a tragedy like that. When you think how many children in how many schools in how many cities across the nation go to classes and go home every day in safety, you start to get the picture of how rare occurrences like these really are. Additionally, talk with your children about how the combined efforts of the school and public safety organizations are dedicated to their continued safety, especially in light of recent events.
Suggestion #2- Do let them process
Some people might be hesitant to talk with their children about the recent tragedies for fear that it will only exacerbate the stress and fear already imbedded in their emotions. The fact is, the opposite is true. The cornucopia of emotions that were released over the past few weeks need a healthy outlet, otherwise they will work their way out in negative ways. Help your teen put labels on what they are experiencing (stress, fear, sadness, etc.), then talk about ways to address each individual one. For example, if they are feeling sadness, ask them what has helped them in the past with those feelings. If they are anxious, walk them through the whole concept of how God is still in control, so we need not be anxious about the future (see Matthew 6:25-34).
Suggestion #3- Don’t Hesitate to Seek Help
In the vast majority of cases, a few conversations with your children will suffice in getting them through the shock and distress from the recent tragedies. However…and this is another BIG however…there may be situations where additional help is required. There are some students who deal with situations like these on a deeper level than parents are able to access. In no way does this minimize your efforts, in fact the main way you’ll be able to recognize this scenario is by making conversational efforts in the first place. If this is the case with you and your child, contact your Pastor and discuss what options might be available for your student in terms of professional help.
The bottom line in all this is not if we should talk to our children, but when. You may not have all the fancy titles and degrees as some of the professionals in your child’s life, but you definitely have something they’ll never have…the key to his/her heart. Right now their hearts are probably hurting and scared. Use the key God entrusted you with and begin the healing process today!