Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

School Shootings: What Parents And Others Can Do

April 30, 2007

Another school shooting, this time on a college campus. How horrific! How incredibly sad and painful for parents, relatives and friends of the lost ones! It is one more wake up call to parents, school administrators and to the custodians of our culture that amoral students full of anger, rage and narcissism are threats to the very lives of their innocent peers.

Shooter profile. A review of school shooter profiles shows a loose consensus around a number of warning signs for potential youth/school violence: 1) chronic feelings of isolation, loneliness or rejection, 2) lack of positive communication within the family and school, 3) expressions of anger and rage, social withdrawal or depression, 4) fascination with or possession of weapons, 5) obsession with violent acts, suicidal or homicidal fantasies, 6) alcohol or drug dependency, 7) lack of interest in school or poor school performance and 8) interpret others’ actions as intentional, hostile, demeaning, provocative, and unjustified attacks - worthy of retaliation.

How can this be? How can children in our society grow up so bereft of connection and compassion that the lives of their peers could mean so little? How can a child exist in a school or family environment without red flags of dysfunction alerting those with responsibility for his or her well-being and the well-being of others?

This kind of anger and aggressiveness builds for a long time. How does one reach that point where we are left to count the dead instead of intervening sooner?

Media influence. We also live in an entertainment culture that glorifies and portrays aggression, violence, and indecency in our movies, video games and music. Children are exposed to an environment full of dehumanizing lyrics, course language, pornographic images and sexual immorality.

Demoralized youths can embrace and identify with the violent violent images, anti-social attitudes and themes of revenge portrayed in the media. Without regular meaningful contact with adults to listen to their pain and grievances and to care about them, the allure of media-mediated revenge fantasies becomes a solution to their misery.

Parents bear this responsibility. Parenting is the most important and the longest lasting influence of anything else we do in life. Parents need to know their children and be connected to them through relationships of trust and love. Relationships are about meeting needs. That takes selflessness and commitment - a sacrifice of time, attention and energy. Too many parents are working too hard and spending too much time away from their children in a world that is increasingly hostile to families.

Parents need help. It takes parents and a village. Parents need help from adults and communities who devote themselves to making a difference in children's lives. Parents, teachers, clergy and youth leaders share in the responsibility to prepare children to become moral, loving, compassionate, responsible members of society. If guidance doesn't come from parents, it must come from somewhere else.

Through bonds of love and concern, young people thrive. They will work to please those who care for them. Without a sense of connection, youths will seek acceptance from peers like themselves, or even worse, brood in isolated loneliness, anger and hurt.

Raising moral children. Here is some advice for guiding your children so that they will build strong, moral lives.

- Know your values and pass on those values while they are young. Parents who are wishy-washy about their standards and expectations will find their children adrift in a troubled culture.

- Bond your children to your faith through family and church worship. The spiritual practices, morality and traditions within the family make church teachings credible. Your children’s involvement with other church youth and leaders will be a great support to you. Youth who actively attend their church have greater self-esteem and are more immune from negative peer influences.

- Minimize conflict and criticism with children. Accept and tolerate individual differences while holding firm to important values and principles. Be generous in your praise, encouragement and support. Cut down on negative emotions and communication.

- Take time to really listen. Be adept at drawing out feelings without being judgmental. Keep a lifeline of communication between you and your child until he or she has a lifelong companion as a safe haven for emotional release.

- Teach your children to respect your authority in the home. Discipline should never be done in anger. Have set rules and consequences that are applied consistently in a matter-of-fact manner. Teach negotiations skills and be prepared to negotiate.

- Share ideas and experiences from your own life. Pass on the lessons of life. Children need to know where our values and emotions come from. When they know the reasons for our rules and expectations, they are more inclined to accept or understand why we do what we do.

One solution to the problem of troubled teens and young adults is for parents, church leaders and educators to children to know what is going on in their heads and in their lives. We owe it to every child to feel loved, cared for and connected with encouraging adults, parents or counselors. Children need adults who believe in them, admire them and offer guidance for their lives.