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By Marcus Stallworth, LMSW
As I sit down to write this article, I cannot help but experience a multitude of emotions: frustration, anger, and empathy rapidly vacillate in my mind. As I reflect on the recent unprovoked acts of violence that has taken place in the last two weeks, it is difficult to sit in a place of optimism.
In Buffalo, NY. we witnessed the targeted assassination of 10 individuals, in a supermarket, who’s singular reason they were shot and killed with because of the color of their skin. In Uvalde, Texas, 19 children (pictured above) lost their lives in what is supposed to be one of the places adults can leave their children-school.
Why do these incidences keep happening? Who is at fault? What is the motive? More importantly, what is the solution? Some people show their disdain for these senseless acts by calling for stronger laws surrounding gun access and availability to firearms. Others voice their opinion on the antiquated and systemic way persons struggling with mental health are identified and supported. Many underserved groups continue to echo their positions on the need for additional resources that promote safety, racial and social justice. All these areas for discussion raise valid arguments in their own way. Unfortunately, the lack of uniformity on which area should be the priority continues to bolster separation and division.
Victims of the shooting in Buffalo, New York. Image by Maria Hoskin
I am challenging all of us to put all of that to the side and look at this from a different perspective. We are witnessing universal, non-partisan, consequences which are impacting our teachers, children, and families: ongoing trauma reminders. As a mental health first responder in CT, I led some of the on the ground crisis intervention and ongoing support in Newtown, CT on December 14, 2012, and beyond. All the training and mock simulations could have never prepared my team for those moments, which all started at the Sandy Hook firehouse. Out of respect for the families and community members who experienced unimaginable losses that day, I will not elaborate on those critical, unforgettable moments. Respectfully, when these mass shootings take place, they impact everyone’s sense of mortality and safety. When they repeatedly happen, they serve as trauma reminders.
Consider the impact on our teachers. Educators must still get up every day and head to school to support our growing and developing children. Imagine what that commute must look like for them and the questions they may ask themselves: “When will this happen again? Will our school be next? What protocols are in place to protect us, and will they work in a real-world event?”
How are we ensuring their emotional well-being is intact while they attempt to close this school year in a positive way? What language and skills are they being provided to be responsive to the needs of our children?
How are we talking to our children about these issues? With social media and technology, the days of “sheltering” them by not talking about things went out with the pay phone. How are we initiating conversations about why unarmed strangers were shot and killed just because they were people of color?
How does the sensationalism of media outlets playing images over and over impact their sense of safety? How are you preparing for when they ask you questions like: “are all black people bad? Do all white people want to hurt me? Do I have to go back to school?”
If we are not proactive and have age-appropriate conversations with our children, they will get information from somewhere else. In these pivotal moments in time, is that a risk you are willing to take?
The role of a parent right now may arguably be the most challenging. Many adults are still trying to wrap our minds around the last two mass shootings and the violence that has accompanied them. Many adults who have young children-emphasis on young-have the distinct privilege of seeing through rose-colored glasses. In these formative years, many kids see their parents as superheroes- invincible even. They are the ones they run to for answers, clarification, and explanation.
How are you preparing to speak to them about your own uncertainty about what has happened and what will likely happen again? How young is too young to sit them down? Are we having conversations about what to do in public spaces if they are to find themselves in an active shooter scenario?
Talking directly and honestly with your children is important. Photo from Getty Images
I proposed these though open-ended questions, intentionally. Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all response. Regardless of where you sit socially, economically, or politically, we all can identify with some of these challenges and concerns. In the meantime, legislative movement doesn’t happen overnight. Many systems need re-evaluation and re-imagining. Communities certainly can benefit from knowing neighbors better and leaning on each other for support. But what do we do in the meantime?
I would like to share these 3 free resources that may be beneficial for you when talking to children about these events and may even help you label and identify your own feelings about these tragedies.
1. This link offers a variety of drop down tabs that can be helpful for teachers, parents and loved ones who are engaging in conversations about the recent events:
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: How to talk to your children about the shootings.
2. This link comes from Welcome 2 Reality’s website (www.welcome2reality.us) under their In the News tab. It is a segment from Channel 8 which highlights what was developed as the B.A.S.I.C. Model, which offers simple, yet effective ways parents can be more involved in monitoring the social media presence of their children: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGvo6eevzno. You can also find a free Social Media Contract for Children and parents there as well:
3. This link will bring you to the Child Welfare League of America’s (CWLA) homepage, where you can find their national Statement Regarding the Recent Acts of Violence, which was released to all their member agencies across the United States: www.cwla.org
In these moments, we have three options: talk about it, complain about it, or do something about it. I chose to do. I hope these resources will assist you in whatever way you choose to utilize them.
Stay safe, be kind to others, make good choices, and remain diligent.
(Marcus Stallworth has been a contributor to The Waterbury Observer for several years, often writing about fatherhood issues)