For most parents, sending their kids off to school every day is a routine that is as ordinary as eating breakfast in the morning. School should be a safe haven for kids and parents alike. However, in recent years, schoolyards have become more reminiscent of prisons — with their high chain-link fences, security cameras, and metal detectors — than a place to learn. And I can’t help but reluctantly agree that this level of security has become more and more a necessary evil. As a parent of a high school sophomore, the news of school shootings and threats of violence have been both frightening and a sign that we as parents need to be more vigilant.
When news of the bomb threat and possible shooting broke this week at an Orange County high school down the street from my son’s school, it hit way too close to home. It took me back to the Columbine massacre and the horrific images and news reports of what happened that day. All I could think about is the what if’s and, of course, every parent’s worst nightmare: that I could not protect my son when he needed me the most. I felt helpless and, worse yet, that I had taken for granted his safety by believing and assuming that it could never happen here. We have tricked ourselves into believing that Orange County is a protective bubble that keeps all of that “bad stuff” we hear on the news at an arm’s distance. This was definitely a wake-up call for me.
Parents, next to love and acceptance, the most important aspect of your relationship with your children is communication. I think we take for granted that our kids talk to us about what happens in their daily lives. The fact is, these days, kids would rather post their thoughts, feelings, and experiences on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram than “open up” to mom and dad. On top of that, teens and kids can be surly, dismissive, and downright bratty at times; but we can’t let that deter us from staying connected to them. I tell my son all of the time how much I LOVE his “huffing and puffing” and “I don’t know’s” when I am trying to find out how his day went. However, I know that this comes with the territory if I want to limit problems and be involved in his life. If that is the worst of it, I’ll gladly take it.
Given that our kids are exposed to a dysfunctional and sometimes evil world, it is even more necessary to find time in our busy lives to have an open and genuine dialogue with them. Hearing about school shootings and threats of violence is scary and confusing for both you and your children. Schedule a family meeting and talk to your kids about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with school violence, including bullying. You might be surprised by what they tell you. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings and ask questions, too. Then help them to identify a gameplan and role play with them how to handle different scenarios. Also, have them look out for social media posts that focus on threats of violence or harm and tell you immediately. Finally, emphasize that talking to trusted adults is always at the top of the priority list, especially when they are unsure of what to do. Sometimes, just communication alone can prevent a catastrophe from happening. Don’t look back and regret not taking action. You have the power to make a difference.