Serious incidents of school violence are terrible and frightening. Fortunately, they are rare. But it's natural for kids and teens to worry about whether something may happen to them or their friends.
To help them deal with these fears, it's important to talk about these tragedies when they happen, and to know what your kids watch or hear about them. This helps put frightening information into context.
Talking to Your Kids
It's important for kids to feel like they can share their feelings, and know that their fears and worries are understandable.
Don't wait for your kids to approach you — consider starting the conversation. Ask what they understand and how they feel about it.
Share your own feelings too. During a tragedy, kids often look to adults for their reactions. It helps kids to know that they are not alone in feeling anxious. Knowing that their parents have similar feelings helps kids accept their own. At the same time, kids often need parents to help them feel safe.
Handling the Many Sources of News
Kids and teens have many sources of information about school shootings or other tragic events. They might see or hear news stories or graphic images on TV, radio, or online, over and over. Such reports may teach them to view the world as a confusing, threatening, or unfriendly place.
The details of a news story about school violence can make some kids feel that might happen to them. A child might worry, "Could I be next? Could that happen to me?"
To calm fears, be prepared to tell the truth, but in a way that fits your child's emotional level. Don't go into more detail than your child is interested in or can handle.
Although it's true that some things can't be controlled, parents should still give kids the space to share their fears. Encourage them to talk openly about what scares them.
Older kids and teens are less likely to accept an explanation at face value. Their budding skepticism might hide the fact that they're bothered about a story. Your willingness to listen will send a powerful message and help them cope with these fears.
What Schools Are Doing
Talk with your kids about what schools do to help protect their students. Many schools are taking extra precautions — some focus on keeping weapons out through random locker and bag checks, limiting entry and exit points at the school, and keeping the entryways under teacher supervision. Others use metal detectors.
Lessons on how to deal with problems in non-violent ways have been added to many schools' courses. Peer counseling and other programs help students learn to watch for signs that a fellow student might be becoming more troubled or violent.
Another thing that helps make schools safer is greater awareness of problems like bullying and discrimination. Many schools now have programs to fight these problems, and teachers and administrators know more about protecting students from violence.
Tips for Parents
- Know where your kids get news and information, whether they're watching TV or going online.
- Recognize that news doesn't have to be driven by disturbing pictures. Public television programs, newspapers, or newsmagazines specifically designed for kids can be less sensational — and less upsetting — ways for them to get information.
- Discuss current events with your kids often. It's important to help them think through stories they hear about. Ask questions: What do you think about these events? How do you think these things happen? Such questions also encourage conversation about non-news topics.
- Put news stories in proper context. Showing that violent events are isolated or explaining how one event relates to another helps kids make better sense of what they hear.
- Watch the news with your kids to filter stories together.
- Know when guidance is needed and avoid shows that aren't appropriate for your child's age or level of development.
- If you're uncomfortable with the content of the news or it's inappropriate for your child's age, turn it off.
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