Thinking About Kids

Parents, kids, and the way we live together

Parenting, Guns, Shooters, and Suicide

When someone threatens a mass shooting, no one believes them

Yesterday's Ohio school shooting felt like a kick in the stomach.  

I have been too close to shootings before.  Twelve years ago, a high school student lay ambush to people walking to class and shot them outside my office window.  Every time a school shooting occurs, all that comes back to me.

My younger son is close in age to the two children who were killed.  One of my husband's close friends has kids in that district.  The announcement just came over the radio that a second child has died.

It all feels too too close.

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I have no deep insights into the psychological underpinnings that make some children kill other children.  

But I do know - as all of us do - that anything that can be done to prevent such tragedies would be a blessing.  In Motherlode, the NYTimes parenting blog, writer K.J. Dell'Antonia discusses whether talking to parents about gun access might help prevent such tragedies.  Her feelings are mixed, and best read in her own words.

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My own thoughts are based on my research on parental monitoring and adolescents' willingness to share information with their parents.  They're also based on what we know about suicide prevention.

From that perspective, the most striking fallacy in 10 Myths About School Shooters is that 'nobody knew about it'.  It's striking to me because it's almost never true.  

People almost always do know.  They know someone is angry or depressed or violent.  They know the person is making threats or has been announcing what seem like crazy plans.  People know.  They just don't believe it.  Who could believe something like that?

One of the kids from the Chardon school said that the young shooter had tweeted he was going to bring a gun to school.  But no one took him seriously.  So none of the kids told.

That's the point.

The one message I gave my own son yesterday was that it was not his responsibility to think about and weigh and decide whether or not a kid who is threatening to hurt other people is really going to do it or not.  How could my son possibly know?  What kind of responsiblity is that to give him?

His responsibility - and he shouldn't even think about it - is to pass that information on to an adult who could take on that responsibility, get more information, and make that decision.  Even if the person making the threat wouldn't go through with it, they are obviously in need of help.  Giving help is good.

Don't think - just do.

That's what we tell kids now about suicide prevention.  When someone tells you they're suicidal, find out as much as you can and then share that information with someone who can provide direct help.  Immediately.

Last year, the life of someone I love was saved because when she shared her plans to kill herself, her best friend didn't stop and think.  She acted.  She physically dragged her in to get help.  Right then and there.

She didn't listen to all the voices at the back of her head saying 'oh, she probably won't do it' or 'I shouldn't violate her privacy' or 'what if I get her in trouble?'.  

Instead, she saved her best friend's life.

Just as with suicide, we have to remind our kids that they should not take on the burden of decision-making themselves.  If they hear something that worries them, they should share that information with an adult who can better evaluate it.  IT'S NOT THEIR RESPONSIBILITY.  

And if we hear something outselves, we should pass it on too.

Nancy Darling, Ph.D., is a Professor at Oberlin College.

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