School Violence: I am Heartsick
I am heartsick.
I can barely read the news reports this morning describing, in nightmarish detail, the grisly events that unfolded Friday morning. I want to turn off my Ipad, get under the covers, and run away from this awful reality.
But I can’t.
This tragedy is like a tsunami crashing into the lives of parents and children in Newtown, CT, destroying their carefully constructed world, their sense of security, and their hopes and dreams. The crashing waves are spreading out across the land, thousands of miles away, knocking us down too.
Every parent wants to hold their children tight to protect them from these waves. We want to shelter them from this hurricane—but we can’t.
Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and now, Newtown—these places bring up fear and dread. We can fathom deeds of terror that have some twisted political basis—barely. But a lone person, always young, dressed in combat clothing, with automatic weapons, killing random children, teens, adults, without any motive that we can comprehend, usually ending up dead, either by their own hands or by the police, warped, isolated, and disconnected from the impact of their actions. This we can’t fathom.
As a psychologist, I know that these kinds of tragedies have enormous ripple effects that are difficult to measure. They tear at our sense of security, safety, and our need for predictability. It makes us want to build higher walls around our homes and our schools to protect our families from danger.
It is very hard to protect ourselves from potential danger that we cannot foresee. As a psychologist, it is very difficult to predict whether an individual poses a danger to others, especially if they do not have a history of violence. In my 35 years of practice, I have evaluated hundreds of individuals, perhaps a thousand, for potential danger to themselves or others. For every socially isolated, disordered young adult who commits this type of crime there are thousands and tens of thousands of similar individuals who will live out their lives peacefully, if not unhappily. We just don’t have any accurate way of identifying these individuals before they act. Afterwards, with 20-20 hindsight, we can identify a variety of risk factors in these individuals. But it is too late.
Like many others, I feel that these events reflect some greater social malady that is also hard to identify. Easy access to automatic weapons and ammunition, violence in movies and video games, lack of social cohesion, and loss of spiritual values all may part of this equation.
We need to address these problems. We need to assemble a national group of experts to help us understand these social forces. We need to establish a national plan of action that reduces the risk and gets at the underlying causes of these nightmares. We need to come together. We need to end all of this political bickering and start addressing important issues—like this one.
How do we discuss the deaths of these children with our children? Tailor your comments to the developmental level of your child. Young children are concrete and are focused completely in their present—the here and now. Will they be safe today? Teens may want to discuss their theories about these events—let them think it through and share their ideas.
This tips for parents from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is helpful— click here.
Please share what is in your heart with our family talk community…