My job each month is to bring you, the parent, information that will better protect your children in the online space. These conversations are not always easy to have, but in order to keep our kids safe, we must have them.
Today’s conversation is one of the hardest; it is about school shootings. I have watched quietly over the last several years as they have happened. I have done a ton of research on how, why, and what we can do to help.
One of the common themes, other than a desperate need for better mental health services, is that 90 percent of the shooters leak what they will be doing online. Rampage school shooters typically reveal their violent intentions through their talk with peers, their school assignments, their online behavior, and/or their interactions with their parents.
The harsh reality is that our children are in the same online space as school shooters. As we look back on recent school shootings, research is showing us that the shooters leaked information about what they were going to do long before they did anything. The reality is that the warning signs of school shootings do not relate to students’ clothing, the video games they play, their musical preferences, or other aspects of their lifestyles.
What can we do as parents to better support and protect our children? First, we continue to look at our child’s social media. You may come across something that feels like a red flag on some of the accounts your child follows. Secondly, we must teach our children what to look for. Please understand that I advocate against making our children mandated reporters. However, the reality is they are on the front lines. They see things that we will never see online.
A few warning signs are these specific actions that students engage in which constitute attack-related behaviors. These include any behavior related to the preparation for an attack: stockpiling weapons, diagramming the school as part of planning the attack, writing down plans, and so on. Also, any attempts to recruit someone to join the attack, warning a friend to stay away from school on a certain day, bragging about the upcoming attack, or otherwise indicating violent intentions. All of this can be leaked through social media posts. Social media has provided a venue for children to disclose their intentions. Yet, students, parents, and educators often ignore or downplay the warning signs of an imminent threat. Students often think their peers are simply expressing threats as a way of garnering attention. Even if the threats are taken seriously, there is an unwritten code of silence that keeps many students from reporting what they see or hear. They don’t want to be a snitch or risk being the target of the would-be shooter’s rage.
As we educate our children on the warning signs, we MUST also provide a place for them to feel supported and safe to report what they see. This may look like a trusted parent, guardian, teacher, resource officer, or simply an adult friend with whom they feel they may confide. The key here is that the child must feel that they are safe. The potential shooter must not know they made the report. This can even mean allowing anonymous reporting. We must let our children know that we see them, we hear them and we believe what they are saying is incredibly important.
While we have so much work to do in this area, I do believe empowering our children with the resources and support they need to help recognize and report signs of a potential school shooter will help to prevent future shootings. While it doesn’t seem fair that our children are having to sit in this space, it is a heartbreaking reality. Equipping them with knowledge on how they can protect themselves and others is better than not doing anything at all.