With the Sandy Hook tragwdy fresh on our minds, it seems as if there is more violence in schools. As terrible and frightening as incidents of school violence are, they are rare. Although it may not seem that way, the rate of crime involving physical harm has been declining at U.S. schools since the early 1990s.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than 1% of all homicides among school-age children happen on school grounds or on the way to and from school. The majority of students will never experience violence at school.
Although it’s unlikely to happen, it’s natural for kids to worry about whether this type of incident may someday affect them. Talking with kids about these tragedies, and what they watch or hear about them, can put frightening information into context.
Talking to your Kids:
It’s important for kids to feel like they can share their feelings, and know that their fears and anxieties are understandable.
Instead of waiting for your child to approach you, consider starting the conversation. Ask kids what they understand about these incidents and how they feel about them. During a tragedy, kids may look to adults for their reactions. It helps kids to know that they are not alone in their anxieties. Knowing that their parents have similar feelings will help kids legitimize their own.
At the same time, kids often need parents to help them feel safe. It is helpful to discuss in concrete terms what you have done and what the school is doing to help protect its students.
What Schools Are Doing
Many schools are taking extra precautions to keep students safe. Some have focused on keeping weapons out by conducting random locker and bag checks, limiting entry and exit points at the school, and keeping the entryways under teacher supervision. Other schools use metal detectors.
Lessons on conflict resolution have been added to many schools’ as well as courses to help prevent troubled students from resorting to violence. Schools are also safer due to a greater awareness of problems like bullying and discrimination.
How Kids Perceive the News
Of course, you are not your child’s only source of information about school shootings or other tragic events that receive media attention. Kids often encounter news stories or graphic images on television, radio, or the Internet, and such reports can teach them to view the world as a confusing, threatening, or unfriendly place.
Unlike movies or entertainment programs, news is real. But depending on a child’s age or maturity level, he or she may not yet understand the distinctions between fact and fantasy. By the time kids reach 7 or 8, however, what they watch on TV can seem all too real. For some children, the vividness of a sensational news story can be internalized and transformed into something that might happen to them. A child watching a news story about a school shooting might worry, “Could I be next?” By concentrating on violent stories, TV news can also promote a “mean-world” syndrome that can give kids a misrepresentation of what the world and society are actually like.
Discussing the News:
To calm fears about the news, parents should be prepared to deliver “calm, unequivocal, but limited information.” This means delivering the truth, but in a way that fits the emotional level of your child. The key is to be truthful, but not go into more detail than your child is interested in or can handle. Although some things can’t be controlled, parents should still give kids the space to share their fears. Encourage them to talk openly about what scares them.
Tips for Parents:
Keeping an eye on what TV news kids watch is a good way to monitor the content of what they hear and see about events like school shootings.
Here are some additional tips:
Recognize that news doesn’t have to be driven by disturbing pictures. Public television programs, newspapers, or newsmagazines specifically designed for kids can be less sensational and less upsetting ways for children to receive information.
Discuss current events with your child on a regular basis. It’s important to help kids think through stories they hear about. Ask questions: What do you think about these events? How do you think these things happen? Such questions can encourage conversation about non-news topics as well. It’s also important to remember that if you’re uncomfortable with the content of the news or it’s inappropriate for your child’s age, turn it off