As Mental Health Awareness Month came to a close, it was perhaps inevitable that many parents were reeling from the ongoing coverage of events out of a small Texas town. The murkiness that surrounds the tragedy surely adds to the feelings of confusion and despair felt by those watching carefully.
The media has insisted on giving a name and face to the perpetrator, and this is nothing new. Yet many of these channels react with surprise and condemnation when the cycle of violence continues. Ask anyone to recount one of the victims of a mass casualty event in the USA, and they might struggle. But ask who committed the murders, and many of us guiltily know. And how could we not, when the 24/7 news cycle parades the aggressors and their manifestos like so many trophies?
It’s difficult for the most developed minds to come to some sort of agreement on how to handle these tragedies. Imagine how much harder it must be for children trying to form their own opinions, especially with a screen in their pocket that constantly screams that they’re in physical danger.
When everyone is frightened, no one really makes much sense.
This ever-present fear is nothing new, either. Anyone dismayed by armed shooter drills in modern schools would do well to remember Duck and Cover!, the 1952 animation rolled out to children to help them avoid the inevitability of nuclear annihilation – by hiding under their desks. Does anyone today believe for a moment that Bert the Turtle was going to save any lives through his instruction? It was argued that these drills existed to inform and not frighten its audience, but they were lastingly frightening for anyone that endured them. It’s also argued that the propaganda existed to urge American citizens to accept their new reality, to lull them into complacency.
The only successful strategy for conquering fear is facing it. Beyond that, one must be entirely honest about what the danger is, and prepare themselves and their family.
Children worldwide have been subjected to a firehose of fear-based content since they were old enough to hold a screen in their hands.
There’s a reason that fear is such a galvanizing force. It’s the oldest emotion, activated deep inside the primitive brain, and it either propels us into motion through anger and violence or freezes us into helplessness through depression and anxiety. Without adequate tools and context, your kids will fall into these patterns and have no easy way out.
Whether what happened in Uvalde was a problem of failed police response, failed firearm regulations, failed mental health systems, failed school protection policy, or a combination of all of these is not particularly important. What you can do with your kids is talk to them about reality. You can listen to their questions and their concerns and their fears, and you can equip them with strength and common sense.