As I write this, there has been yet another heart breaking mass shooting. This time it involved an 18 year old killing an entire class of children and their teachers. It has been followed by the usual round of pundits advocating for or against changing gun laws. The reality is that the issues that cultivate people who act out in violent ways are complex and require complex solutions. Since complex solutions require hard work, time and resources, they are ignored in hopes that a quick vote on a law or government money thrown at an issue will resolve it without much effort on our parts. It’s a nice fantasy, but a fantasy all the same. (Laws and government funds may help a little, but they are rarely the entire solution to any problem.)
To stop this from happening again, we all need to do our part. It will take hard work. We will make mistakes along the way and won’t always be successful in our efforts. If any of us refuses to do our part, however, the problems will continue. Exactly what you can do will vary depending upon your situation. Scan through the list below and choose the items where you can make a difference. Fair warning, though. The truth is not easy to read or embrace, but the children in our world need us to be honest so we can actually address some of the core issues involved.
- If you are a parent, be actively engaged with your children. Children need a lot of your time and attention. They need you to teach and guide them. They need you to correct them and give consequences. They need to be around you enough to see you model godly behavior. You need to be engaged with them enough to see problems developing in their early stages – not when they are already out of control. This takes a decent amount of time and effort EVERY DAY. If your only conversations with your kids are brief and primarily logistical, you are not engaged enough with your kids.
- Stop telling parents it doesn’t matter what they do or don’t do in parenting because ”children are resilient”. We have research now – lots of it – that shows the choices parents make absolutely have a huge impact on how their children act and react to the world around them. The most ironic thing about this common parenting myth is that one of the top indicators of whether or not a child is resilient is the strength of the child’s relationship with a parent and how that child is parented. Poor parenting skills create not only children with lots of problems, but children with little resiliency.
- Stop assuming other people will parent your kids for you. Sure your children suddenly began behaving better when they entered school, because the teacher was the first person to establish rules and boundaries and enforce them consistently. The odds are just as great, however, that the other adults to whom your child is exposed in day care, school, activities and even church may not want to help parent your child. In fact, they may be ignoring your child or actively teaching your kids any number of disturbing ideas and encouraging negative attitudes and behaviors. When you decided to raise children, the role of parent came with certain responsibilities. Stop expecting others to do your job for you.
- Stop bragging about your parenting mistakes or encouraging parents to ignore older parents trying to give solid parenting advice. Sure your parenting mistake was funny and not a big deal. Maybe you disagree with a blog post or article on parenting. The truth is that many parents struggle with much deeper parenting issues than you might. (They may even be people you know and would least expect are having issues.) Their parenting mistakes could seriously harm or even kill their children. Don’t unknowingly discourage other parents from getting the help they need because you are defensive for some reason (even if it is totally justified in your situation). Let’s encourage parents to be the absolute best parents they can be.
- All that being said, ask for help. To raise the type of children who make the world a better place, you will need help. This is especially true if you are a Christian parent trying to raise your kids counter culturally. Don’t be afraid to ask for that help, but do so wisely. Pick your helpers carefully. Make sure they are not actually hurting your child in some way. When you ask for help, be as specific as possible in what you hope the person can accomplish. If the person you ask declines, keep asking until you find someone who will help.
- Offer help to parents by mentoring children and/or parents. If your church or local school has a mentoring program, get trained and participate. You can perhaps be a little more unbiased and less embarrassed to encourage a parent or child to get the help he or she needs. Or you may be able to provide that assistance yourself. Experienced parents who have raised children who are ”model” adults should be especially encouraged to mentor young parents.
- Watch for warning signs and get professional help early. Did you know that children who do something horrible to an animal are extremely likely to do something horrible to people later in life? If your child seems angry all of the time, has no friends, seems obsessed with guns or violence, has signs of a mental illness, etc., run to your child’s pediatrician and ask for help. Keep asking until your child gets help and shows improvement. Do not allow a professional to minimize your concerns. I don’t think I have ever read of a parent of a murderer who said they were shocked, because their child was so sweet and kind. In fact, many admit they were afraid of their own child.
- See something? Say something (and keep saying it until someone does something). Too many times, people saw warning signs. Sometimes they said something, sometimes they kept quiet. The incidents that are prevented are usually because someone saw something and said something until someone listened and did something. Don’t be so afraid of getting involved that you refuse to speak up. Lives may be at stake.
- Stop embarrassing parents who need the help of experienced parents or professionals. The fear of being mocked, talked about, shamed or embarrassed by others prevents many parents from seeking help parenting their children – whether that help is advice, mentoring or professional. We need to assume every parent needs help with some issue and applaud those who ask for that help.
- Be honest about the things that cause trauma in children and provide extra help for children who have experienced trauma. Did you know children can experience trauma in the womb that can impact them even if they are adopted by a great family at birth? Or that divorce or the death of a parent causes trauma in children (amongst dozens of other things)? We have the research, but we aren’t educating parents. I am so tired of meeting adoptive parents who were not told their child was born addicted or had birth parents who suffered from mental illnesses, nor were they told what they could do to help their children navigate these issues and as a result, the parents and children are suffering because they weren’t educated or prepared.
- Worry more about what is actually best for children and less about the popular trends of the moment. Many educators and others who work with children have private conversations about how some current trends will cause deep issues for the children raised by them. Few, however, are brave enough to put up with the bullying that happens when you find issues with the current popular opinions of the day. Everyone needs to be brave enough to speak up in ways that can be heard and understood by others – or at least do what educators have done for years – keep quiet, but do what is in the actual best interest of the child.
- Protect children and teens from all violent content – including gaming. Every parent wants to believe their child is different, but the research is overwhelming. Violent content increases aggressive and violent behaviors. Not to mention early war games were actually created to train soldiers. These shooters have been trained through gaming to be lethal killers. If the entertainment industry really wants to end violence, they can start by no longer creating violent content.
- Actively teach young people godly conflict resolution skills. When experts tell parents to let kids work out their own conflicts, what we get is a world full of adults acting out their conflicts like 5 year olds. We need to actively teach children conflict resolution skills at home, in school and in church and insist they use them.
- Live the Golden Rule every day. The Golden rule isn’t just about not doing harm to others. It also involves doing positive things for others. Stop rationalizing your own acting out in anger on the road, in retail establishments or online. Be the first to thank someone, praise an employee to the manager, help someone or do something nice for someone. After the last several years, we are all close to the breaking point. You can help by being kinder, more patient, gentler and more loving every day.
- Teach young people the value of life. Life is a blessing from God. It is a gift to be valued. Constantly reinforcing the value of every life could not only reduce violence against others, but help remove suicide as a viable option young people are willing to consider.
- Teach young people how to actually live their faith and why it matters. I am a Christian and to me all of the answers about love, character, how to treat others, the value of any and every human life and more are found in the Bible. Parents and churches have to make teaching, coaching and modeling the commands and principles in the Bible a top priority. Currently, they all say they do, but very few are actually putting in the necessary effort to be successful at teaching young people how to be who God created them to be and instilling a passion for living the Christian life in them.
So what are you going to do to help prevent the next mass shooting? Ranting online never accomplishes much other than getting pats on the back from like minded friends. Be brave. Do something concrete to make a positive difference in the life of a child or teen. We all need to do our part if we really want mass shootings to stop.