The horrific school violence in Parkland, Florida has people asking how could this happen again? Why are teens and young adults (most often male) expressing their aggression in senseless and terrifying ways? We can easily name lack of gun control or mental health issues as contributing causes, but there may be other underlying problems that contribute to this senseless violence. One area of concern is the explosion of technology usage and social media. People, especially teens and young adults, spend significant amounts of time being digitally connected and less time being physically connected. Many assume that the digital connection is just as real and significant as face to face connections. Other negative influences include viewing pornography and playing video games excessively. People are really not living in the reality of life. But while we can blame guns, mental illness, technology, and/or living in a stress-filled world, I'd like to focus on something more basic, which is the loss of community. It really does take a village to raise a healthy and well functioning child and bring them into adulthood.
We can blame parents, teachers, family, but the reality is that we all share in the responsibility. Some parents (and I would argue society as a whole) have adopted an extreme position of either not allowing their children to fail or giving up completely on them. We need to hold our children accountable for their actions with the small things early on in their lives so that their reactions don't continue to escalate as they get older. The most important piece to this is being consistent with consequences and teaching them responsible behaviors. We can also teach them healthy and constructive ways to handle stress and conflict by both our words and our own actions. People mature and grow up when they build resiliency and deal with negative situations constructively. Another important component is developing a sense of mastery and self-esteem. When we intervene or bear the burden for our children unnecessarily we are doing them a disservice and they don't learn how to master effective coping skills. Instead we can guide and encourage them as they deal with conflict and stress and maybe share skills that have worked well for us.
The bottom line is that often children fall through the cracks either because people aren't paying attention, choose to ignore the red flags, or deny the nature and magnitude of their problems. In some cases identification has occurred but follow through and implementation for help has fallen short. We all have a responsibility to listen for problems, offer resources, and notify those who can provide assistance. In addition to mental health counseling being readily available to wayward students, there needs to be a mechanism to provide peer support and/or online services for those that prefer to avoid traditional counseling. Maybe through social media, gaming sites, or other digital connections students can receive healthy and effective counseling. Unfortunately the more isolated and detached students become, the more distorted their perception of reality is, which can lead to destructive choices.
As parents, we can work to get our children connected to a healthy support network through our churches, organized sports, musical/theater involvement, and/or other extracurricular activities where they are likely to encounter good role models. We need to spend more time talking with our students and listening to them even more. Schedule time for a one on one breakfast or bike ride. Also give your students responsibilities, chores, and activities that they can master and be rewarded for doing. Lastly help them in coping with a stressful life, bullying, negative emotions, and conflict. Sometimes teaching them assertive communication and role playing scenarios with them can be very helpful. We need to be present for our children and stay connected even when they prefer to be disconne. Our families, communities, and country need all of us to step up and be a positive force in the lives of our children.