I don’t know what to say to my kids anymore about the school shootings. Sorry that we’re letting you be massacred?
Like most parents I have times when I do an OK job, and many moments when I fail. Friday morning was a grimacing example of the latter.
I was driving my kids to school while the latest mass school shooting news blared on the car radio. I instinctively reached to turn the sound down, but then I figured: They’re in high school. They can hear it.
Ten were reported dead. A teenager with multiple guns opened fire in an art class. The president came on and said something about it being a tragedy, and God bless them all.
“Thoughts and prayers,” my daughter said. She’s 17 and has seen this movie many times already.
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When we got to the school, the radio was describing a bloody scene. As my kids clambered out of the car alongside streams of other students heading inside, I got rattled and said, inanely: “Be careful in there. Try to stay safe.”
They were simply going to school. My basic job as their dad was to reassure them. Yet I acted as if I was sending them off to the Gaza-Israeli border or something.
In my defense, they go to school in a very different environment than I did in the 1980s. In February, right after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17, a kid at their high school was arrested by Seattle police for threatening to pull the fire alarm and then massacre the students as they evacuated the building.
He told police he was joking. But like the teen boy arrested in Friday’s Santa Fe, Texas, shooting, he had posted photos of guns on social media and watched violent videos on his cellphone in class.
So our school, three months later, is in a state of permanent semi-lockdown. All but one of the doors to the outside are locked during the school day. There’s a resource officer — a good guy with a gun. Every classroom door is also locked, so if you get a hall pass to go to the bathroom, you have to knock to be readmitted when you return.
My kids have been doing school-shooter lockdown drills since they were in kindergarten. Over the years they have also been through a dozen real lockdowns, when they huddled quietly against a wall or in the dark of the band storage room. Once back in middle school the word mistakenly got passed down that there was an actual shooter in the building. And so, for a brief time before the all-clear signal, they felt real terror.
They also witnessed a shooting a few years ago, when one teen shot another in the shoulder as he was running away across a sports field. Dispute over a girl, the police later told me.
This is typical of “Generation Parkland,” as a psychologist and a doctor recently dubbed it in an essay. The Washington Post has calculated that 214,000 students have seen or experienced some measure of gun violence at school since the 1999 Columbine shooting. I know this count is low, because I searched the database and it doesn’t include the shooting my kids saw.
What is the effect of this exposure to violence — and to all this worry about it — on kids? Stress, anxiety, numbness, nobody knows for sure.
“The effect of this ‘secondhand terrorism’ on kids is, however, largely undocumented,” the “Generation Parkland” essay concluded.
After the inspiring gun protests this spring, I’ve noticed something disturbing creeping in that I recognize from my own generation. There’s acceptance of our country’s insane blood rituals. There’s a realization that “This is America,” as the No. 1 song says.
“Prepare to see students rise up and be called ‘civil terrorists’ and crisis actors,” wrote Cameron Kasky, a Parkland survivor. “Prepare for the right-wing media to attack the survivors.”
When asked if the shooting felt like it was too crazy to be real, one survivor of the Texas high-school shooting Friday gave the same resigned look my daughter gave me when I was dropping her at her hardened target of a school:
“It’s been happening everywhere,” the Texas student said. “I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too.”
The kids know. They know why we’re at a loss for words. They know why we come at them with “thoughts and prayers” or other meaningless pabulum, such as my “be careful in there.”
It’s because we’re not going to do anything. In the land of the gun, they know they’re on their own. I wonder what’s the psychological effect of being abandoned like that?