Our Children Are Watching
My initial shock and horror about the tragic events this week, beginning with the mall shooting near where I live followed by the even more horrific school shootings in Connecticut, are slowly giving way to hope today. As our elected leaders take the first tentative steps to discussing gun control, and public demonstrations demanding more reasonable policies grow in number and strength, I am optimistic that maybe, finally, we’ve reached a turning point in the United States.
Sadness and fear (especially fear), however, have been my predominant emotions over the past few days, particularly as the first reports of each of these events were breaking. And for a short time, I actually considered the possibility of buying a gun. If violence in formerly-safe places like shopping malls and schools is going to be more common, shouldn’t I take steps to protect myself and my children? My husband and my brother (a police officer) have been encouraging me to get a gun for several years now, and I have resisted so far, but this past weekend my resolve began to wane. And apparently I wasn’t alone — several news outlets reported record-breaking gun and ammunition sales in recent days, many to first-time owners.
I have decided that I will not be joining the ranks of gun owners, though, for one main reason: I do not want to be a person who succumbs to fear. Buying guns out of fear perpetuates the problem by putting more guns on the street. The only way out of this is to recognize and accept that we cannot prevent bad things from happening, and guns do not guarantee our safety. As scary and difficult as these events are for all of us, I strongly believe that this is a time for us to find our strength, disengage from the cycle of violence and fear, and act based on what we value. This is an opportunity for us to connect with our better natures, not just for our own personal growth and peace of mind, but also for our childrens’.
Child development experts are advising us to help our children through this time by reassuring them that they are safe, that these events are rare. This is true, and I know many families are having these types of conversations with their kids. But how can we deliver this message in a believable way if we are reacting to our own fear, arming ourselves and our teachers (as some people are proposing)? Our words become meaningless and our actions are what our kids will remember — they are watching us closely. In short, how we respond to these events will significantly impact how our children view the world and, perhaps more importantly, how they will manage difficult times when they are the adults.
So, as I’ve been working through my own emotions I also have been talking to my boys about fear, describing the differences between healthy fear and irrational fear, and how to manage each. I have shared only the smallest amount of information with them about the recent shootings, and have emphasized in each conversation the wonderful advice that Mr. Rogers left us: “In any tragic event, look for the helpers. They are always there.” I will also make sure that they see me taking action to support what I believe in — writing letters and signing petitions for gun control laws, advocating for more support for the mentally ill. This is the only healthy way through tragedies like this, and this is the example I want to set for my sons.