Let’s Prevent our Kids from Becoming the Next Shooter

I have been writing this post in my head for the past few days and I am finally putting it down on paper the internet for all to see. My fear in posting about ‘hot’ or ‘controversial’ topics is not that I am afraid people will stop following, it is that I won’t convey what I want to. I have a hard enough time expressing myself in person, let alone online without inflection and nonverbal cues, but here goes.

My brother, 2 years older than me, received his undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. A true college town. I’m not sure there is much else there other than the University, although feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I attended Drexel University, a school surrounded by underserved areas that I often had to walk through to get to sports practice, restaurants, etc. Aside from the typical college worries (drinking/partying/etc), I would assume that my parents were a little more worried about my safety than my brother’s, and not because I am female. I would frequently get text alerts about ‘shots fired’ within a block or 2 of my apartment. Knowing that there are those situations, we all took precautions. Don’t go out by yourself late at night or early in the morning. If you have to, bike, don’t walk. I felt safe most of the time; and you know what? I’m sure my brother did too.

As we are nearing the 11th Anniversary of the terrifying Virginia Tech Massacre and upon hearing about yet another school shooting, I am forced to remember the text my mom received from him 11 years ago. “I’m okay, I didn’t go to campus today” or something along those lines. There was confusion at first, then the news caught wind of the situation and we then began learning about the terrible shooting that happened that day. One of the locations included my brother’s primary school building and the massacre resulted in the death of 33 individuals (including the shooter), many of whom were my brother and sister-in-laws professors and classmates. It makes me well up to think that my brother might’ve gone to school that day and that there are 33 families that lost loved ones that day.

This was 11 years ago. I am not here to judge the school or those surrounding the situation, I am merely noting that school shootings are nothing new. Schools have taken a lot of precautions since this time, but the weapons are changing, situations are changing. There is only so much schools can do to keep up. This shooting happened with 2 pistols, no semi automatics, and 33 people died. There has been a lot of recent discussion on arming teachers and banning semi-automatic weapons but I am here to share with you what I think needs to change.

Before I get to that; however, I want to mention parents. Because as a parent, I think two ways. The first, is how can I prevent my child from being in one of these situations. From being shot in a mass shooting, from witnessing friends being murdered. The reality right now is that unless I never let her leave the house, I can’t prevent it. So I have to think of it another way. How can I prevent my child from becoming the next shooter? My child is 3 and half. She loves life, loves her friends, loves her family, and no, I could never imagine her ever doing something like that. But I doubt that most of the parents of the children/young adults/etc who have become the active shooter ever expected it of their children. If we think about ways for all of us parents to prevent our own kids from becoming the next shooter, maybe then, we can act with empowerment, instead of fear, and make an even bigger difference. I believe that there are four areas that need to be looked at, problem solved, and addressed: Social Stigma, Media Access, Mental Health Accessibility, and Gun Control.

Social Stigma

While I refuse to research the shooters in these cases (because they don’t deserve that much attention) many of the recent perpetrators have been classified as “privileged white males.” I believe that as a society we are really trying to shift our focus towards feminism and empowering women. The frequently forgotten part of of feminism calls on us to also redefine masculinity. To make this long post a bit shorter, check out this article for a detailed discussion on how we need to support our boys. Basically, even our attempts to empower our female children, we are ignoring the needs of some of our male children. We have no way for them to safely express feelings without social backlash. There is little opportunity for vulnerability and openness. Think about this, it is way more socially acceptable for a girl to like sports and play with trucks/cars than it is for a boy to want to wear dresses and play with dolls. Why?!

While it wasn’t fully that way the first time, my husband and I discussed recently that we aren’t finding out the sex of our baby because once born, our child will have their full life to be judged on whether they are male or female. The least we can do is give our child nine months where there are no comments/expectations/critiques on boys versus girls. We need to make great headway on letting people just be people and not letting femininity or masculinity define them. Maybe if these males didn’t have so much pressure to “prove themselves” or to “hold in their feelings” then there would be less rebelling through those difficult times and maybe less frequent massacres.

On top of this while I personally enjoy social media – I have to question how much more impact the masculinity social stigma and attitude has on our tech savvy children. I have a hard enough time hearing what my child learns from her classmates at daycare. “Daddy you can’t read that book because it’s a girl book, Mommy needs to read it” Where the &%*$ did that come from? Not mommy or daddy that for sure. She barely even uses technology, let along the constant social media access.

Media Access

Continuing on with technology and media, I don’t want this to be a screen time debate. Everyone knows that no two children, even identical twins, turn out exactly the same. There is a combination of nature and nurture involved. So maybe, child A and B both watch the horror on news, play video games with automatic weapons and mass killing sprees, and watch high violence films at an early age. Or even films that depict “ordinary men” just trying to prove themselves and make a name for themselves. Child A may always know that this is just TV but somehow, internally, things get twisted for Child B. They get older and start to struggle with anxiety and depression (as nearly all of us do at some point) and rather than just acting out against their parents, they decide to act out against the world, their school, their classmates, their teachers. We need to know what our kids our doing, what they are playing and what they are watching.  We need to make sure, that they know what is reality and what isn’t. I found even the YouTube Kids app had videos of kids playing in a way that I didn’t want my daughter to see. So we stick with TV shows of which we approve and don’t ever give her free access to choosing herself (remember she is only 3.5).

Alternative Mental Health Support

When we continue to look at Child A and Child B, this is where I start to consider mental health. The idea of “Mental Health” can be often seen as negative, but all Mental Health is a continuous sliding scale for all of us. You know those days when you ‘wake up on the wrong side of the bed”? Well that’s a dip in your mental health. To be diagnosed with depression, a mental illness, you only need to have the common signs and symptoms for two weeks. I believe that many of us have had at least two weeks that would classify us as depressed. How are we addressing this? Many of these school shootings and massacres have noted a connection to mental health concerns. Since 2014 Mental Illness Support has been required coverage, but what kind of coverage are we offering? Is it therapy we aren’t willing to admit we should go to? Is it medication that makes us feel like worse versions of ourselves? What about alternative strategies like yoga, guided meditation (can I submit the Calm App subscription to insurance?!), even nutritional support. Social stigma is a big barrier. Who wants to admit they need help? How do people know they need help? I doubt moody teenager is going to say “hey mom, I want to go to therapy!” (Maybe you’ll get lucky!) Even if you, or your loved one, does realize they need help – how many people avoid talking about it with their regular care providers because they don’t want to follow the traditional path? To address the concern of mental illness, we need to break down the stigma surrounding it and help those in need get the support that they truly need – which may be medication, but there may be some other options to without so many side effects.  As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I not only understand how what we eat affects our mental state, but also as a human being, I can feel the difference day to day of how my meals make me feel.

Gun Control

Yes, I saved this one for last. It’s the one most people are talking about and I absolutely think something needs to be done. No I don’t think that restricting semi-automatics is the only answer (see above regarding the Virginia Tech Massacre). I also don’t think that arming teachers is the answer. There are many teachers posting videos/blog posts/etc about why they shouldn’t be armed and I want my kids teachers to teach and support my children. Their job is NOT to physically protect them. I think it needs to be harder to get a gun, any gun and there needs to be more training/testing/education. Think about how hard it is to get a driver’s license, you often have to start with a permit and practice, then you have a written test and a driving test. On top of that, every 4 years you need to renew that license. If you make any violations, like going over the speed limit, that can go right on your record. Yes, you can accidentally kill someone with a car, but the purpose of a gun is to kill. Whether it to be animals or humans the purpose of that gun is to kill. You can argue sport, such as target shooting, etc, but I will tell you that you are still trying to ‘kill’ the target. I am not totally anti-gun, although for myself I am and I won’t keep them in my home. I think hunting is great. We have a friend who hunts Bow and Arrow. I can really get behind that. I’m not opposed to hunting with rifles, etc. and wouldn’t mind being able to round up my own bit of Venison, but it just isn’t for me. If you want to purchase a gun for hunting, or even if you truly feel you need one for self defense, it shouldn’t be as this CNN video makes it seem. (Spoiler: A 13 year old boy can’t buy a lottery ticket, cigarettes, or alcohol, but legally buys a gun with ease). I even think about when I got my marriage license. I had to get the license between 3 and 60 days of getting married. This way I couldn’t just get married on a whim (Vegas must be different). A gun should be no different. Maybe, you need to get preauthorization/clearance to purchase a gun at a gun show (if they should even continue). You should never be able to walk up and leave the same day with a gun purchase. Not only does it give you time to prevent acting in haste or passion, but it also gives time to ensure better background checks, mandatory education and training. While I don’t want a gun, I don’t think it’s my right to tell you that you can’t have one. You just need to prove that you’re going to be safe with it.

To Wrap it All Up

What do you think? Did I miss something? I don’t think we can pick and chose Social Stigma or Media Access or Mental Health Support or Gun Control. I think our society will improve by addressing them all. Who knows? Maybe we can not only prevent our kids from becoming the next shooters (and prevent the frequency of these shootings) but maybe all of this can support them in becoming even more amazing individuals that will accomplish things of which would could never dream.