By Jayasree Nair
Just another regular after school conversation with my monosyllabic middle-schooler: “How was your day?” “Good” “What did you do?” “Nothing” “Really-nothing?” “Oh, we had a school drill today-you know- on what to do if there is an active shooter…..”
It seems to be a conversation I am having very often these days. Don’t get me wrong – I am very happy that schools are taking measures to keep our children safe with mock drills and lock downs. However, I am depressed and worried by the stark truth- this is the reality in our world today. Every day, we hear about another Sandy Hook, another Parkland. We cry a few tears, pray a little, send up thanks that it didn’t happen in our city, or in our kids’ schools and continue on with our lives. Yes, we do care, but I am not sure we know what to do about it. I still don’t know what to do about it. I know how to take care of sick children, I know how to try to save lives at birth, but I don’t know how I can keep my children safe from a school shooting.
More than a decade ago, when my son was born, I promised him I would keep him safe. I have gently walked him through challenges – when he questioned why his skin was brown, why people were occasionally “not nice” etc. I watched him struggle with his emotions over the last few years as he tried to understand why people of all races and origins are not treated equally. I thought talking about puberty would be tough. That was a cakewalk! Now dinner time conversation involves talking about what to do when someone starts shooting in one of his “safe” place s- his school.
In today’s technology-filled world, news and social media channels are easily accessible to our cell phone-wielding middle and high schoolers. Additionally, the most addictive video games kids are playing today involve violence and shooting. Does this have an influence on their subconscious mind? It likely does, especially if they are already dealing with stress, peer pressure, bullying or unfortunate social or living conditions.
Banning video games and limiting access to the internet are not viable options. My son often complains about stricter “screen time” limits in our household as compared to his friends- unfortunately, he is told, that is what happens to children of pediatricians. The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested limits on screen time depending on the age of the child. These may be tough to follow in Western New York, where for several months, kids are unable to go outside and remain indoors after school. As I recognize that I am allowing him to exceed that limit at times, I refocus my pre-occupation with my electronic devices to more meaningful interactions with him.
Maybe, by a concerted effort to scroll less and talk more to our children, by providing them with safe access to resources at school and at home to discuss stressers, we can take better care of their mental health. Organized school walkouts and marches protesting gun violence in schools - such as the one today, are bringing parents, children, teachers and the community together in ways that have not been seen before. We need help from our policy makers and legislators to provide a safe school environment. Maybe together, we can protect our children.
Jayasree Nair, M.D., thinks we need to work together to safeguard children in school.