Safe is a four-letter word – Lowell Sun

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Egregious acts of violence in the U.S. are not new.

What is significantly different today is the increased incidence of such acts and the number of deaths occurring from them. It seems we can’t turn on the news or read the paper without hearing about yet another person losing control and settling their grievances through acts of murder. It’s as if this type of violence is unavoidable. It could happen anywhere, a movie theater, a concert, a night club, even in our very own neighborhoods. So why do we expect schools to be any different?

With all the madness that goes on in the world we would like to think there is a place we can go to and feel safe but safe is a four-letter word. A word that should be used with caution because the truth is safety simply cannot be guaranteed. Any activity we partake in comes with a certain level of risk nowadays. If we don’t contract COVID-19 first, there’s always the chance of being caught in the crossfire of someone’s misplaced rage. With such threats to our safety and well-being, it’s a wonder we’re able to step outside our doors at all and for many parents sending your child to school can provoke fear and anxiety.

I know the school cannot guarantee my child’s safety. No amount of security, policing, monitoring, active shooter drills, emails or prerecorded messages can put my mind at ease. If I think about it too much it would paralyze me. My children and I would never leave the relative safety and comfort of our home. The only thing I can do as a parent is compartmentalize and do my best to get through the day.

Just a week before Christmas break there was a notice sent out regarding the possibility of violence at the schools due to a message circulating on social media encouraging young people to commit violent acts on school grounds. I want to say this type of message is rare but unfortunately it has become a routine part of school communications. Without a second thought, I chose to keep my soon to be 16-year-old daughter home that day. I knew the likelihood of something happening was low but who’s to say there isn’t some young person out there feeding into the mentality behind the message who then ultimately decides today is the day they turn their resentment, bitterness and violent thoughts into action. Better to be safe than sorry. On days that I do send my kiddo to school, I make sure I get my kisses, hugs and I love yous in just in case anything happens.

What makes matters worse is the lack of truthfulness and detailed information being provided to parents or worse, no information being provided at all. Full transparency on the school administration side seems impossible due to privacy laws. Any news parents receive is either censored, redacted or limited and sometimes the information isn’t even shared with the public because it would make for bad publicity not only for the school administrators but for any elected official that has any decision-making abilities involving the city’s schools. When we do get a story from the school, it does not necessarily match up with the story we hear from our children and/or other parents which only adds to the lack of trust parents have that the schools are doing everything in their power to keep students safe.

If you never get the whole story, how can you make a decision that is in the best interest of you or your child. And I’m not talking about the major incidents like those we’ve seen at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland or more recently at Oxford High School in Michigan. Lowell has been fortunate to not have experienced violence of that magnitude, but when I hear from other parents and students about someone’s head being bashed into a bathroom sink or someone being bullied to such an extent the only way they saw it ending was to take their own life, I am left wondering what the school is doing about it.

A 10-year-old family member informed me a schoolmate shoved them because they accidentally stepped on the schoolmate’s sneakers. They chose to fight back and had their head slammed into a stair railing resulting in a large knot on their forehead. Their mother was never informed of the incident. I hear stories like this all too often and remember situations from my own childhood where adults failed to intervene or notify parents about what happened to their child while they were under the supervision of the staff at school. Parents end up hearing about it from their children. Some choose to follow up with the school and others decide to just let it go because they do not have faith that any significant changes will take place to prevent such incidents from recurring. This is often the reason many parents will tell their children to fight back and protect themselves if they are attacked or bullied but this only results in more violence.

Young people are emotionally immature. They really do not know how to manage their feelings. They act on them. If they are feeling sad, they will withdraw into themselves. If they are angry, they can lash out verbally or physically. They have no coping skills. It’s up to the adults in their lives to model behavior for them that is appropriate when they are in spaces outside of their own home and even in their own home there is a limit to what they can do in an emotional state. Young people, or should I say people in general need to understand that handling your emotions should not involve harming yourself or harming others.

Perhaps we can find ways to curb some of these violent behaviors if we were to have a robust network of mental health professionals on staff either in schools or in after-school programs. These professionals would be able to provide staff, students and parents with the support, resources and tools needed to develop skills around how to regulate emotions, handle problematic behaviors, resolve conflict and communicate assertively and respectfully with others.

The stigma around mental health and therapy needs to end. Talking to someone about how we feel and using them as a sounding board for tough situations we encounter in life is a normal thing. The only difference in speaking to a professional versus a friend or family member is that you will essentially be speaking to someone who has the educational background, training and experience that can help you gain knowledge about yourself and what works best for you as you work through whatever issue it is you might be having. Your friend or family member might not be able to see the full scope of the situation you are in or have limited knowledge on how to help you with your struggle.

These past couple of years have been traumatic for many of us as we live through the pandemic and listen to news of civil unrest and the tragic events going on all around the world. Adults I have spoken to expressed they had feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anxiety, irritability, mental and emotional exhaustion. If adults are having a difficult time, then it is logical to think children and teens are too but being younger they have not yet discovered what coping skills work best for them. They have less experience managing stress and dealing with the pressures of society. Tensions are high and now more than ever we are seeing that an investment in maintaining mental health can help prevent or at the least reduce the likelihood of violence in schools or any other place for that matter. Maybe it could help ease the minds of the parents who need comfort in knowing something other than increased security is being done to ensure their children come home safe.

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