“We owe our children- the most vulnerable citizens in any society- a life free from violence and fear.” – Nelson Mandela
There is a saying that we as clinicians teach what we need to know and to practice ourselves. Managing anxiety in the aftermath of the nation’s deplorable frequency of school shootings is one such area all can benefit from. It goes without saying that our country has reached what many have described as a critical juncture in politics, a nation divided and polarized in such disparate directions that at times a revisiting of the Civil War seems to loom large.
Gun control is no exception t0 that divide. Many argue in favor of stricter gun control laws. Others find fault with mentally ill populations and access to purchasing guns. Some are blaming teachers and lack of school security. Others follow fake news outlets and claim leftist conspiracy theories that the Parkland High School students made up the shooting incident. Others are shaming parenting styles (or the lack thereof) and a moral failure of society. Yet others pronounce that the rugged individualism and the myth of the cowboy still permeates the U.S., rendering progress towards safety around guns at a standstill. The answer to this riddle seems to lie in a blend of examining all of these angles, minus the fake news and conspiracy theories. Without stirring the pot of politics, I will add, as a clinical social worker, member of NASW, and an advocate for safe communities, that I believe no one needs access to assault weapons, unless they are military personnel.
Ultimately, our children deserve to be able to go to school without being afraid they might not come home. We, as parents, should be able to drop off our children at school and know with certainty that they are safe and that they can focus on learning, instead of mounting anxiety about violence. Schools need to be a place of safety and security, and our nation needs to do better to protect this next generation of people who will likely be the catalysts for change. Our youngest generation is fed up. And so should we be. Enough is enough. Some day, we will likely look back upon this time in the U.S. as the “Dark Ages” of our country, if we can manage to survive and get back on track without further creating chaos domestically and abroad. It is incumbent on the American people to be informed with facts and information, to show up to vote, and to take action (advocacy, petitions, speaking, etc.) for change to occur. We cannot give up.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tips for managing stress and anxiety in the wake of school shootings:
- Turn off the television. Go electronically unplugged if you can for specific periods of time.
- Practice coping skills like deep breathing, meditation, distraction
- Take political action and sign petitions, write your legislators, join organizations that support gun control and school safety
- Talk with your child(ren)’s school about their safety plan in the event of a lock down drill. Discuss with your child(ren) what to expect if a lock-down drill occurs and how to manage the worst case scenario.
- Find out who the counselors are at your child(ren)’s school and make sure your kids know who to go to in the event that they are feeling scared, worried or nervous. Older teens may also need a support group or processing group to talk about their worries about school violence in a confidential space. Collaborate with the school district to attend committee meetings for school safety, addressing security, safety protocol, and addressing containment of worries and anxiety at school.
- Talk with a licensed therapist to address anxiety and coping skills. Watch for signs that you or your child(ren) may be experiencing vicarious trauma – heightened anxiety, insomnia, separation anxiety, depressed mood, avoidance of school or leaving house, problems concentrating in school.
- Talk with neighbors, friends and family about your concerns and share your petitions, requests for added security, improved school communication, etc. Keep your home and community safe and violence free.
- Talk some more with your immediate family members. Encourage your children to speak with you about their worries, concerns, and fears. Provide a haven for your family to process the national trauma our country continues to be exposed to. Let your children know how you keep them safe at home and how you are working with school personnel and community at large to keep our youngest generation out of harm’s way.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ” Mister Rogers
Retrieved from February 22, 2018: https://www.socialworkers.org/news/news-releases/id/1627/nasw-grieves-for-families-of-florida-school-shooting-urges-president-trump-and-congress-to-declare-gun-violence-public-health-crisis
Retrieved from February 22, 2018:https://www.edutopia.org/article/when-students-are-traumatized-teachers-are-too
Photo by MIKI Yoshihito. (#mikiyoshihito)