Today is a horrible day. I’ve received a few phone calls from parents asking me for advice on how to talk to their children about the horrific violence on an elementary school campus. I had yet to speak to my own sons about the massacre in Connecticut when the calls came. My friends’ voices all had that familiar tone of exhaustion mixed with anxiety. We’re scared for our children and we’re fucking tired of being scared.
My kids and I have age-appropriate conversations about guns on a regular basis. It started when they were little, like 3 and 4 as I drilled it into their heads that if they ever saw a gun they were to immediately leave the room. No fuss, no muss, get your butt out the room. Guns are not awesome, they’re not cool, they’re not interesting. I told them this before someone else could tell them the opposite. I was terrified they would be visiting a family member or a friend’s house and some kid would start playing with a gun. Our conversations have progressed from there. I’ve never avoided the subject of gun violence because it’s too real of a threat.
I live in Oakland. Guns are used to kill people here on a startling regular basis. I live somewhere where the reality of gun violence doesn’t let you catch your breath. There’s no reprieve. Unnamed assailants kill children at the corner store, men with badge numbers shoot first then ask questions only when pressed. The kids have asked me many times why would someone shoot another person. Every time we hear about a shooting, the kids ask why it happened. “Why, mom? Why would someone do that?”
I don’t say it’s because that person is crazy. I don’t say it’s because the person was really angry, or because they were jealous or envious. I don’t say it’s because the shooter is evil or an animal. I want them to know exactly how purposeful it is to pick up a gun and decide to pull a trigger. We can be crazy and down in the dumps and pissed off at the whole planet and never think of using a gun to solve our problems. Using a gun is the ultimate form of cowardice. Every school shooting is an act of extreme vile disgusting cowardice. Every domestic dispute that ends in a murder or a murder/suicide is ultimately the act of a coward.
I’ve been answering the why question for years and years now and my answer has remained constant: power. It’s the most honest reply I can give them. A gun gives a weak person strength. Every time you hear about a shooting- you’re hearing about a coward. You’re hearing about someone who is irrationally obsessed with power and control and want a respect that they do not deserve. That’s been my counter narrative to both the real world violence we live in AND to the hyper-violent form of masculinity shoved in my kids face.
“Why would he shoot a bunch of kindergartners?”
“Because he wanted power over them and because he was a coward.”
Tell your kids that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe. Tell them that there are so many adults surrounding them that are brave and strong and would never in a million years ever use a gun to solve an emotional problem. Tell them that for every one power-hungry, hateful, coward there are thousands of good, kind, smart and caring people there to help. Show them that everyone from President Obama to the crossing guard on the corner is there to prevent this from happening to them. Tell them that it’s not normal, and it’s not typical and it’s not just the world we live in. Tell them that we have solutions to this problem. That we know how to fix it and that it will not happen to them, and not at their school.
Tell your kids this and then let’s work to make it happen.
Here are some more links that may be of further assistance to you in talking to your kids about gun violence and mass shootings:
A list of children’s books:http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/library-books-to-help-kids-cope-with-newtown-tragedy_b62488
5 top resources for talking to your kids: http://www.babble.com/babble-voices/something-fierce-katherine-stone/2012/12/14/5-top-resources-for-talking-to-your-kids-about-school-shootings/