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May/ June 1999 - Volume 2 - Issue 5


Talking to Our Children About Violence in Our Schools
By Holly Martinac - With excerpts from The Family Education Network

If we could protect our kids regarding the details of the terrible tragedy in Littleton, Colorado, we probably would. How we help our kids deal with all of the details in the media is very important. The violence is real, the fears are real and the feelings are real. How and what do you say?

You Listen. Listen to what they have to say. Help them to describe and define a feeling to what they are saying. " It's okay if children see that you are upset about the tragedy, even if you don't share details about the events. Letting them know that you feel sad when someone is hurt is a good way to help children learn about empathy. And empathy is an essential characteristic of well-functioning, healthy human beings." Says Dr. Susan Linn ("Talking With Young Children About The Colorado Shooting.")who is the Associate Director of the Media Center for Children at the Harvard University affiliated Judge Baker Children's center.

Fears About School Violence (- from "Fears About Violence in Schools")

Dr. Alvin Poussaint, the Director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston, gives parents tips on talking to their kids about last year's school shootings. These tips are an excellent way to talk to your kids about their fears, as well as to see what you can do to improve school safety.

The return to school is a time filled with both excitement and reluctance for most children. This year may add an unusual kind of anxiety to the mixture: schoolyard shootings. Virtually every child in the country has heard--or seen--stories about students like themselves being gunned down by classmates.

How do children experience the media's coverage of these events?

How children respond to memories--or news stories--of last spring's schoolyard murders will depend on their age, temperament, and experience. Some children may be openly frightened. Some may fear that it could happen to them. Some may feel distanced from the possibility of violence in their own lives. Some may be unable to grasp that this really happened to real people. Some may take a protective stance of cynicism and apathy. However children respond, all of them need help and guidance from the adults who care for them.

How can parents help with children's fears?

Helping children feel safe about returning to school means talking with them and listening to them. Ask how they're feeling about school starting. Ask what they're excited about. Ask if they have any particular worries. Listen carefully for clues about their feelings. Encourage them to tell you about anything that worries them. "Boy, the kid in that television program was really mad . . . , do any kids you know get that angry? What would you do if you heard a kid talking about doing something violent? Or if you knew that someone in your class brought a gun to school?" Assure them that you will be working to make their school safe.

What can parents do to help ensure school safety?

Support and become involved in violence prevention programs. There are many effective programs available, but they don't work if they're not used. Find out what your school district offers. Or whether a local youth group is interested. Or your religious community. Then offer your time. Keep guns out of the home. If this is not possible, keep them secure from children. The easiest place for children to get hold of weapons is in their own homes or those of family members. This was the case in all of the reported schoolyard killings.

Take the threat of children who threaten seriously. Again, all of the boys in last spring's shootings had made verbal threats prior to acting on them. Clearly, an aggressive battle with action figures does not automatically signal horror in the making. But a kid who talks about wanting to "blow someone away" should never be dismissed. Urge school districts to increase counseling for depressed and angry students. One of the ironies of these terrible events has been the willingness of schools to mobilize counseling after the fact to help students deal with their experiences. A preventive mobilization of these resources could be much more effective, and would perhaps have averted the loss of young lives. School budgets are always under great pressure, but our children's safety is not a "frill."

The students whose schoolyards exploded with gunfire are not the only ones who were affected. As our children return to school this fall we need to help them come to terms with their fears and do our best to prevent future violence.

~ Excerpts reprinted with permission from The Family Education Network. 20 Park Plaza, Suite 1215, Boston, MA. 02116.  www.familyeducation.com

What else can we do?

Some people are wanting more gun laws. Maybe that is an answer, but there is plenty of legislation to keep guns out of the hands of kids.

Did you know what last year 8,000 kids were caught at school with guns? Of those 8,000 students, 5 were actually charged for illegal possession of a gun. Some were just sent home and others suspended or expelled. What is to deter kids from having a gun (or guns)?

We need legislation that provides funding not only for prevention and intervention of high risk youth, but we also need funding to be provided to follow through with the prosecution and conviction of individuals involved with any youth illegally possessing hand guns.


WRITE YOUR LEGISLATORS!
Colorado State Capitol
200 East Colfax
Denver, CO 80203

* For a complete list of Colorado Senators and Representative, please contact Presidio 303-432-2298 or visit The Colorado State Legislative Directory: www.state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/contact.htm

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