Given these scary events that could have taken place way too close to home, parents are wondering: What do we tell our kids about school shootings? And, if I hear of a credible threat or suspect someone has the means to carry off a violent act, what do I do?
What to tell our kids really depends on their age. For younger elementary school children, most experts agree to not share such tragedies with them, unless they bring it up themselves. Then, take your cues from them. Find out what they know about the event. Talk to them about "some people make bad choices," but you can reassure them that "school is a safe place." And, reassure yourself of that fact as well. As much as we are hearing about these types of school shootings in the news, the fact is they are still incredibly rare.
For older children in middle school and high school, most experts agree that it is best to talk to your children about such events, but in an open-ended, not overly detailed manner. For example, "This happened..." but stay calm. Our kids take their emotional cues from us. If we are panicking, they likely will as well. In sharing the events of what happened at South Pasadena this August, it's important to emphasize what a success it was in stopping such a tragedy. Let your child know the officials received a valuable tip and from that, everyone at the school remained safe and unharmed. You can also let your child know if they ever hear of anyone wanting to hurt someone or talking about a plan to do it, that they can tell you about it. A silver lining of this foiled South Pas plan is that it underscores how important tips are and that parents and students can feel empowered to make a difference if they hear of something that concerns them.
As part of the San Marino Unified School District Safe Schools Initiative, the District has partnered with WeTip, the nation's only completely anonymous and confidential tip hotline (800.782.7463 or 800.78.CRIME). As a WeTip member, SMUSD schools have obtained a resource which has been effectively serving communities since 1972. WeTip will enable students, parents, faculty, and community members to effectively combat school crimes. This hotline may also be used to report threats of violence and bullying. The anonymous feature of the hotline is especially important because students are often afraid to report crime because they fear reprisal from the person they are reporting. WeTip allows for the sharing of information without fear and empowers involvement, leading to a safer community.
Dr. Ginger Bercaw is one of the founders and directors for the California Center for Healing. She earned her Doctorate in Psychology from Pepperdine University and is a licensed Clinical Psychologist. She works with women and couples.
Ginger is the mother of two children, a 10 year-old girl and a 7 year-old boy who both attend Carver Elementary.