After Millard South's tragic shooting, who is to blame?
When tragedy strikes, we want an explanation and reassurance that something can be done to prevent it from happening again. We’re scared, angry, shocked, and a range of other emotions, and most of all, we feel helpless. If only we could take some kind of action, create some new policy, punish some wrongdoer, increase law enforcement measures — whatever it would take to put us back in control, to help us feel safe, and to allow us to believe that the incident was either a random, unpredictable act, or someone else’s fault.
We all had the opportunity to witness the evolving coverage of the terrifying shooting that occurred at lunchtime at Millard South. We gasped in horror, we saw scenes of Columbine and other similar tragedies flash through our memories, and we immediately started thinking of anyone we knew that might be connected to Millard South. People that would make it REAL to us. And many of us began praying, for the shooting victims and their families, for the students who endured hours in the dark not knowing what was next, for the staff who were brave and reassuring, and for the parents and families of all of those students. My guess is that quite a few of us also prayed for the troubled young man who wielded the gun and for his family and friends.
As news stations struggled to fill air time with live coverage, the same old scripts were being dusted off, scripts written when the first school shootings occurred and barely edited since then.
It’s the same discussion. It starts and ends with "Who’s to blame?" If only the school had better security. If only someone had noticed the boy was in trouble. If only guns weren’t so easily accessible. If only music and television and video games didn’t promote violence. If only the boy’s Facebook friends would have reported his post. If only we could bring prayer back into the schools. If only parents would do their jobs. If only…
We want a solution, a remedy for "whatever" causes this type of behavior. We’re desperately seeking solutions to help youth caught up in gang violence. We’re looking for ways to reduce the rate of sexually transmitted diseases. We need to increase graduation rates, decrease date rape, increase test scores, decrease alcohol and drug addiction. Who is going to solve all of these problems?
You might say that parents need to step up and do a better job parenting.
Any good parent knows there’s always room for improvement, no matter how the job you’re doing looks on paper. No one can argue that parents don’t hold a major stake in the kind of citizens their kids turn out to be. But this isn’t Leave it to Beaver. Parenting is complicated, and challenging, and lots of times not very fun. You’re a good parent or a not-so-good parent on a minute-by-minute basis, and the better parent you are, the more you understand that to be true.
So let’s put it on the schools.
They’re easy to blame. We’re paying good tax dollars to public schools to educate our students and to keep them safe. The truth is, schools see our kids more than we do, so they have to pay attention. They’re the ones with the professional training, after all. It’s their job to ensure a positive, nurturing environment that shows our kids how to succeed, and if some of the kids don’t fit the mold, then they just need to work harder. It’s all about discipline, and high standards, right?
Or we could hold the media responsible, because it glorifies violence.
The lead story on every news station in town virtually every night is about a shooting or a robbery or an assault. Look how much attention those folks are getting! And let’s not even talk about how music has rotted our kids’ brains and video games have taught them that killing is fun and movies and television make murder look sexy.
This is how the tired, cliched script begins. Same complaints, same villains. You know what else is the same? Same lack of solutions.
How do we help troubled kids? By each one of us (all ages, races, socio-economic levels, faiths, ethnicities) pitching in however we can to exert whatever positive influence we can.
Let’s teach kids the difference between sex and love, and find real, tangible ways to help them feel good about who they are so that they don’t need a boyfriend or a baby to make them feel worthwhile.
Let’s make up for the times we didn’t come through for our own kids and do a better job with someone else’s kids. Let’s remove the stigma that surrounds mental illness, teach kids the signs of depression, and invest our resources in more mental health solutions for kids.
Let’s hire teens and teach them the value of a hard day’s work. Let’s involve them in volunteering that helps them feel the satisfaction of doing for others with no expectation of a return. Let’s acknowledge that the cycle of poverty is difficult to break, and then let’s inspire kids to do it anyway.
Let’s show up to study hall and pull kids out who need extra help with math or English, or just need a rational adult they can talk with that isn’t there to punish them. Let’s do outreach from our church and meet kids where they are, and give them somewhere they can belong without fear of judgment.
Let’s give them coping skills when they feel pressured about sex or drugs or alcohol or criminal behavior — giving them a way out that allows them to save face. And let’s hold kids accountable for their behavior and their errors in judgment by delivering a reasonable, realistic consequence that is less about preserving their self-esteem and more about helping them become responsible adults.
Most of all, let’s be honest with kids and talk about the tough stuff, and let’s really, really, really listen, even when we don’t want to hear what they’re saying.
Chances are that you found yourself saying, "Yep, we’re doing that. And I’ve helped with that. And I know of a group who is doing that…" That’s great — keep it up! Get more people involved.
You might also be saying, "Yeah, in an ideal world… all that is great, but who’s going to pay for it? And who’s going to organize it? And what about all that red tape?" And we’re back on script.
The solution? It’s easy. And it’s incredibly difficult. It’s US. Together. The whole village (you know the cliche).
Time to stop shaking our heads and waiting for someone else to make it all go away. Our kids (society’s kids) need all of us to pitch in.