As I dropped my son off at school today, for the first time I can remember, I was fearful for his safety. I tried to tell myself that the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was one isolated incident by a very deranged man. This would not happen to my child, surely he would be safe.
“Mommy’s job is to keep you safe,” I heard the words in my head that I’ve said to him a thousand times to keep him from touching a hot stove or running into the street. ”Mommy’s job is to keep you safe…” As I drove past the school buses and tree-lined streets that had all but become routine to me, I felt a twinge of trepidation. He’s supposed to go to school, right? It’s the law. That’s where children belong.
There are simply no words or explanations for the terrible tragedy that occurred. We, as parents and a nation, are grieving for this senseless loss of innocence. But what can be done now is the question that we are plagued with. How can we prevent this from happening again? We try to have it make sense in our minds and explain the unexplainable.
The rhetoric has already started. There needs to be stricter gun control. Treatment for the mentally ill in this country needs to be more accessible and less stigmatized. Were there warning signs that were overlooked by family and neighbors regarding Adam Lanza’s mental state? How much safety and protection should we have in our schools? Should we employ armed guards and use metal detectors? How can we keep our children safe? There are no specific answers, but we must begin looking.
When my son turned 11, he got an X-Box 360 for his birthday. Currently I’ve been struggling with how to handle violent games rated Mature that he sees his friends playing at their houses. Fortunately, he is only interested in sports-related games and has absolutely no interest in playing violent ones. He just doesn’t get the point. Frankly, neither do I. I would like to preserve the innocence of my child and his experiences for as long as possible. He will have plenty of time to be a “grown up”, whatever that means.
I’m not saying that his friends’ parents who have made the decision to buy their sons Call of Duty, Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and the like are producing future psychopaths. What I do believe, however, is that exposure to these games, at a young age, starts to desensitize kids to violence. Their brains are just not developmentally ready to process the graphic images shown. I believe that they create aggression and change children’s brain chemistry. No matter how many times you explain that this is just a game, there are ratings on these games for a reason! R-rated movies have an equally damaging effect on a younger child’s psyche, in my opinion. It is a parent’s job to keep kids safe by setting appropriate limits. Kids are being exposed to too much, too fast. Parents are afraid to say “no”.
Another erosion that is occurring in our society is a lack of family time, giving kids a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves. The decline of family dinner hour, or spending quality family time together at all, is endemic in our culture. It’s been proven that kids who share meals with their families at least 3 times a week are less likely to do drugs, suffer from depression or engage in inappropriate behavior. By eating dinner together, I mean actually engaging in some form of meaningful conversation rather than playing with electronics.
Our nation just doesn’t seem to value this type of interaction anymore. Our priorities are way out of whack. We value the material more than the spiritual. In some families, fathers and mothers both work long hours to stay afloat in this economy. Kids are engaged in sports, music lessons, clubs, religious school, etc. and have endless hours of homework to do. There is no time to “check-in” with each other face-to-face anymore. We are distracted and dependent on communicating through electronic media which is a poor substitute for human contact and connection. I wonder if anyone had “checked- in” with Adam Lanza recently.
Another issue is that, as a culture, we are taking less and less responsibility for our neighbors. We don’t “check-in” on them for fear of being nosey. We mind our own business and refrain from getting involved. It has become shameful to ask for help for fear that our parenting skills will be judged as inadequate or that we will be rejected. Parents are more defensive about the way they parent than about almost any other deep-seated issues in their lives.
While I agree that there is definitely not one right way to parent, there is a wrong way. And it effects everyone in our society. Too many parents are their children’s friends today rather than being their example. They don’t know how to or are afraid to say “no” to their kids. They don’t hold them accountable for their actions. We need to be having open forums and discussing these issues in our communities no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel. Our kids and our futures are at stake. Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy for us to realize that we are all in this together.
I have no idea what struggles Adam Lanza’s mother faced. Or why she chose to have an arsenal of firearms in her home. Or why she was hesitant to reach out or was unable to obtain help for her son. We cannot prevent what we can’t predict. I’m sure she couldn’t have predicted this, nor could anyone else for that matter. And God knows, you can try your best to be an intelligent, informed parent struggling to make the best decisions for your child and things can still go terribly awry.
So where do we go from here? We grieve for the victims and their parents; including Adam Lanza and his mother, as tough as that may be to do. And we continue to have the conversation collectively as to how to best work together and “check-in” with each other for our children’s sake. This is by no means an answer, but it’s the start of a very real and necessary conversation.