I sat in the parking lot of my son’s preschool today, waiting for the clock on my dashboard to tell me that it was time to pick him up. I scrolled through my Twitter feed, and there it was. Another school shooting.
The social media response is predictable by now. The hand-wringing. The prayers. Moms making heartfelt pleas for peace, while debating the necessity of driving to their own children’s schools to scoop them up and carry them home to safety. As the hours pass, the conversation turns to gun control. Should we? Shouldn’t we? Who are we as a nation? Who are we as parents? Sprinkled in like a forgotten spice in a nearly perfect recipe, is the discussion about mental health. How can we help? Who should we help? When is it too late to help?
I made it through a homicide at my high school. I lost my friend Mike that day. And when Mike stopped breathing, my life changed too. It changed me enough to know that I’m really tired of listening to all of you ponder, plea, debate and complain. I’m tired of reading your comments on social media. I’m tired of the hand-wringing. The navel-gazing. The attempts at empathy.
That’s not enough.
That won’t protect your kids.
If you don’t know where to start, let me help you.
1. Talk to your kids about guns.
Do you have a gun in your home? Where is it? Does your child know where it is? I’m not going to debate with you about whether or not you should own a gun. That’s your choice. But if you DO own a gun, then you must must must talk to your children about gun safety. When do we use guns? Who is allowed to use a gun? What are guns for? Do your children have access to your gun? Really? Think again. Now hide it somewhere better. Does your child’s best friend’s dad have a gun? Are you sure about that? Have you asked him? Your kids are only as safe as the information that you demand. If you don’t know what to say, ask the professionals for help. When my 4 year old came home from school asking about what it meant “to die people”, it was a good opportunity to start a conversation. When I didn’t know how to answer his questions about guns, I asked a friend of mine who is a police officer and a father. Find the words. It isn’t too early to start.
2. Ask your child’s school about their safety plan.
It’s scary, and it sucks, and we don’t want to have to think about it, but every parent and every child should know what is expected of them during a safety drill at school. Your school has a lockdown policy. Your children should be drilling every quarter on what to do in an emergency. Elementary school children don’t need frightening details, they just need basic steps. “When the fire bell rings, it’s your job to listen closely to your teacher. She’ll tell you what to do, and we’ll all stay safe together”. Junior High and High School students are not too young to talk about things like running to safety, listening for an all-clear from police officers, paying attention and trusting their instincts.
3. Look for the loners.
Children begin slipping through the cracks as early as Kindergarten. Teach your child how to reach out to a friend in need. Give them the words to use to invite a new student to play. Model this by reaching out to families in your child’s class. Invite them on a playdate. Ask a new mom if she wants to join you for coffee. Don’t sit back and gossip about the kid no one wants to play with. Help your child identify one great thing about that child, and encourage them to reach out. We are all responsible for the well-being of the students in our classrooms. All of them. Even the ones that don’t fit in. Especially the ones who don’t fit in. Children learn how to be bullies from their parents. Model how friends take care of each other. How strangers look out for each other. Pay attention, and you will find multiple opportunities to teach your child how to be a leader.
4. Ask questions. Speak up.
Don’t know what your school’s safety plan is? Ask. Wondering if your school security guard carries a weapon? Ask. Confused about where to pick your child up in an emergency? Ask. Do you have a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach about the boy that no one wants to sit next to in class? Say something. You are not being neurotic, or over-bearing, or anxious. It’s your right to know what your child’s school has done to ensure everyone’s safety, and you owe it to your child to help them be prepared.
5. Remember that even with the best preparation, terrible things can still happen. Be a force for good in this world.
I’m not talking about hitting “like” on a Facebook photo honoring someone who has died. That’s not enough. Social media makes us lazy. Commenting on photos doesn’t help, it only makes us feel better. Next time there is a tragedy in one of our schools, instead of wringing your hands with your online friends, visit Sandy Hook Promise , the Emilie Parker Fund, or The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation. Send them an email saying “What do you need?”. Be of service. Give of your time, your expertise, your money, your dedication. Do something. Do anything. With each incident of school violence, allow yourself to be reminded of how badly you are needed. In our schools. In our foster care programs. In our places of worship. Pay attention in your real life. Fight for your kids. After Mike was killed, my mom started a task force at my high school that brought parents together to figure out how to keep our community safe. She didn’t have a lot of time. She had never done anything like that before. But it was an act of love. It said “I care about you, and I care about your friends, and I’m going to do everything I can to keep you safe.” Put your fear into action.
6. If it’s your business to grieve with families who have been affected by violence, then help to heal the families who have been affected by violence.
When you tweet your condolences, or Facebook your collective grief, make it count. I challenge you to be a part of the solution. Say “I promise I will make it better for our nation’s children by…..” or “I will honor your child by…..” It could be something as simple as lighting a candle with your toddler, and talking about using gentle hands. It could be helping your school to put together their disaster binders, or volunteering as a reading tutor in Juvenile Hall. Ask your police department to lead a workshop about gun safety, and host it in your home. Invite a mental health professional to speak at your next Mother’s Club meeting. Raise money for an anti-bullying assembly at your school. Spend one day a week volunteering at recess, or in the lunchroom, or at back-to-school night. Some moms march on Washington, some moms march right in to a PTA meeting for the first time. Do something.
We live in a country where even the most prepared schools are vulnerable. A country where even our most helpless young people are preyed on. A tiny school in Newtown did everything right last December, and someone still took those sweet babies away. We can’t stop all of the evil, but we can work hard to be a force for change. I will do this for my two boys. I will do this for your children. I will do this for the beautiful little faces that we’ve lost in schools across this nation. I will do something so that the petrified teenagers walking out of their school with their hands up, will know that we are working as hard as we can (and as fast as we can) to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. I will do something for the babies, barely 6,7,8 years old, who have had to walk out of their classrooms holding hands, after witnessing unimaginable tragedy. I will do something for the boys (and it has almost always been boys) who have been so sad and alone, that they have hurt other people, and ultimately ended their own lives. I will do something. Anything. Anything that I can to stop the pain for our children.
So get off of your social media pedestal. I don’t need to know how sad you are. I know you’re sad. I know you care.
Now do something about it.