After Parkland, stop talking to kids about school shootings and listen instead

People visit a makeshift memorial setup in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 19, 2018 in Parkland, Fla. Credit: Joe Raedle, Getty Images

After Parkland, stop talking to kids about school shootings and listen instead

Parenting Tips and Advice

After Parkland, stop talking to kids about school shootings and listen instead

I’m not talking to my teenage son about the recent mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, where three adults and 14 children not much younger than him were slaughtered.

I’m not going to tell you how to talk to your kids about it, either, though I could try, because I’ve written that story so many times I know it by heart.

It started with Columbine, which stunned the world at the time because of the number of children killed at one time and one place.

That year, 1999, was actually one of the least deadly when you count the number of children shot to death in American schools: 14 killed, all at Columbine.

The year before, in 1998, more than 30 students were shot to death at schools in separate incidents, in West Paducah, Kentucky; Pearl, Mississippi; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Springfield, Oregon, among others.

Apparently, it takes shooting children all at once to get our attention.

Sad scenes of remembrances are still playing out at the Parkland amphitheater on Feb. 17, 2018. Crosses have been set up to honor those killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Credit: Andrew West, The News-Press via USA TODAY Network

Sad scenes of remembrances were still playing out at the Parkland amphitheater on Feb. 17, 2018. Crosses have been set up to honor those killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Credit: Andrew West, The News-Press via USA TODAY Network

How to talk to your kids about Columbine.

The advice is the same for every school shooting, the experts I’ve interviewed over the years say.

Ask your children what they want to know. Answer their questions honestly and appropriately for their age.

How to talk to your kids about Virginia Tech.

Encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling. Be alert to signs of anxiety. Practice ways to reduce stress. Take a walk, do deep breathing exercises. Maintain routines.

Limit exposure to news coverage for little kids. Watch together with older children and discuss what you saw.

How to talk to your kids about Sandy Hook.

Look for solutions. Point out the heroes. What could we do to help?

Remind kids there are many people at school to protect them, including their parents, teachers and the local police. Reassure them that they are safe.

How to talk to your kids about Stoneman Douglas.

People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting. JOE RAEDLE, Getty Images

People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

But by the time our children are the ages of the student survivors of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas, where 14 children and three adults were shot and killed, they know more about school shootings than most adults do.

It’s been 18 years since Columbine — their lifetime. They’ve grown up with lockdowns and active-shooter drills. They’ve been taught to say something if they see something.

They’ve only known anti-bullying and peer mediation programs, locked schoolyard gates, cameras on campus, no-tolerance policies and security guards in golf carts.

They’ve all had the talk, the one about school shootings. They looked to us for answers.

But the kids from Stoneman Douglas, and other kids that age, they are on to us.

They know that what we’re telling them — that last part anyway, that the adults in their lives will protect them, that they’re safe — isn’t always true.

Maybe we should stop talking

Let’s see what the kids can do.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Shooting: Stop talking, start listening

Sheryl Acquarola, a 16-year-old junior from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is overcome with emotion in the east gallery of the House of Representatives after the representatives voted not to hear a bill banning assault rifles and large capacity magazines. Credit: Mark Wallheiser, AP

For more about how kids are changing the conversation about school safety – and what parents can do to help, read Karina’s column on azcentral.com:

After Parkland, stop talking to kids about school shootings and listen instead

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