Our country has in recent years been tormented by gun violence. No matter your personal stance on gun law in the United States, you can’t be human and escape feelings of pain for the lost & their families. And, is it just me or do you find yourself lying in bed, eyes wide open, terrified that maybe Somewhere Else is at last so much closer to Your Family than you ever imagined it could be?
In 1999 Columbine took my breath away. In the days and weeks after the massacre I watched as the news media painted a picture for me of the mass shooters. Detail by harrowing detail, stroke by macabre stroke, the two were revealed to us – teenage boys in dark Wild West coats, pimple-faced assassins.
Killers aren’t raised in factories, I thought. What about the parents? What were their roles in this? Who were the people living with and caring for these disturbed teenagers?
One of the shooters, Dylan Klebold, had been looking at college dorm rooms for the upcoming year with his Dad (a geophysicist) only weeks before the tragedy. His Dad worked from home and saw his son every day. His Mom was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “Dylan did not do this because of the way he was raised. He did it in contradiction to the way he was raised.”
That’s a truly terrifying statement.
I’ll admit that I secretly wondered whether they were the kind of parents who had ever yelled at their kids to clean their rooms and then, after the kids had fallen asleep, felt so guilty that they cried for an hour. And then gotten up the next morning only to yell at them again for blowing bubbles in their cereal? (Not that I ever did such a thing. Asking for a friend.)
Were they parents who let kids have sugar after 5? What about supper? Did they eat supper together with their children every night? Or were the floors of their cars perpetually littered with fast food wrappers?
If it sounds silly to wonder about such things, my only defense is that like so many of us then I tried to make sense of the madness through the filter of parenthood. I was doing my own kind of complicated, psychological, Mom math problems.
If… (those people) let (their children) + stay up late – not eat their green vegetables + talk back and it = MASS SHOOTER, then maybe (my kids) who don’t – stay up late + except on weekends + – only talks back once in a while, and are (just about to start eating the hell) out of their green vegetables will = NOT A PSYCHOPATH.
Parents tend to be exceptional players of the age old game of Compare & Contrast. Of course we almost never win, except of course in the case of a complete dismantling of
other parents their opponents, but we are exceptional players nonetheless.
I believe Moms & Dads across the United States are now asking themselves the kinds of questions I was asking myself in 1999. We ask how in the hell we can keep our kids safe in a world where cold-blooded slaughter in the classroom is possible. (Had I known then just how bad it was going to get, I think the terror would have overwhelmed me.)
But, let’s just be honest about it. We also secretly wonder whether the job we’re doing as parents is enough to raise mentally healthy, empathetic, kind adults who don’t grow up to become mass shooters. I mean, when we read the obituary of someone our age who has died unexpectedly we are struck with the need to know the how & why. We hope to read, “She died valiantly doing what she loved – amateur lion taming.” The story we tell ourselves is that so long as we aren’t taming lions in our spare time everything will be okay.
Isn’t it kind of the same thing when a mass shooting or other act of gun violence happens at the hands of a troubled young man or woman? Don’t we somehow feel a little safer if the killer is so very different from us and from our version of family in every way? It’s hard to hear that 20 first graders and 6 educators were sprayed with bullets by a young man who loved to play Dance Dance Revolution.
Am I raising a mass shooter?
Is there the possibility that your child could grow up to plot a mass murder? Could ISIS manage to reach into your son or daughter’s computer and recruit them to commit unspeakable acts? I don’t know.
But, I do know that loving your children isn’t enough. Good people can raise
bad people broken people. No, in addition to creating an environment of love & acceptance, we need to be parents who are aware & awake.
Is there something going on with your child that makes you wonder whether he or she should see a therapist? Do you question whether things they say or do are “normal?” Are you being as diligent as you can be about monitoring everything they do online? What kinds of things are they seeing on TV and YouTube? Are they being bullied? Are they the bullies?
Maybe it’s good to remind ourselves to pay as much attention to our own parental instincts as we do to what’s happening with our sons & daughters.
If something feels “off” to you, trust yourself. Take action. Get help. Be relentless and intentional in your day to day efforts to know your children and to help them know themselves. You are their best hope and at the risk of oversimplifying, you are this country’s best hope when it comes to curbing gun violence.
The job you’re doing as a parent? It’s that important.
What is your opinion about mass shooters in the United States? What can parents do to protect their children from gun violence, and what can we do to be sure our sons and daughters don’t grow up to be perpetrators? Let’s talk about it.
Sher Bailey is a writer in the Midwest who believes the power of humor, Mod Podge, and grandkids can fix most problems in life. You can find her at SherBailey.com.