A CBS News article today said there have been at least 11 school shootings in the U.S. since January 1. And the one that happened yesterday was very close to our community here at Daystar, with our camp being an hour or so away, and Melissa having her first youth director job at Calvert City, Kentucky. With at least 11 this month only, the likelihood is that one has been close to your community, as well.
What do we do? How do we love and protect the kids we love so dearly? What do we say, in light of such tragedy, especially tragedy that was perpetrated by someone close to their age?
Yesterday afternoon, as several of the kids from Marshall County High School were being treated at Vanderbilt, just down the road, I was sitting in my counseling office with a high school girl. We were talking about the culture at her school—how it has grown to be one of sarcasm, criticism, anger, hostility, and prejudice. She told me a story of overhearing boys in the hall going down the list of girls in her grade and giving a numerical rating to every single one. We talked about what she could do to change the culture. She’s impassioned and grieved about it, with all that is good and noble and ready-to-save-the-world, as a 16 year-old can be. Through tears, she said, “What can I do? I can’t change it. Things have gotten too bad.”
What’s happening at her school is profoundly different than the tragedy that happened in Kentucky, and has at entirely too many other schools. But it’s a step in the direction of intolerance, and hate, and fear, and a sense that the person sitting next to you in class does not matter. And, ultimately, neither do you. Because, for someone to hurt another in that way, that person doesn’t believe that he, himself, or she, herself, matters, either.
So, we talked about what this teenage girl in my office could do. She’s not helpless. And neither is your child. We say often at Daystar, the kids that we’re concerned about the most are the kids that don’t believe they matter. So, what can we do to help the kids we love believe that they do, and communicate to the kids around them that they do, as well?
She and I talked about creating some type of “Kindness Matters” club at her school. Even if she reached one person who felt lost or was sitting alone, that would change the culture—at least a little. Narcissism is developmentally a part of teenagedom. But so is the beginning of a big-picture desire to have purpose.
A few questions to ask your child:
What do you feel the culture is like in your school? (and then listen, don’t dismiss. They are living in it in a way that we’re not).
What do they worry about?
Have they ever felt afraid?
Have they been bullied, either in person or on screens or social media? Do they think someone might have ever felt like they bullied them?
How could they make a difference?
What can your child do to be kind to just one child today?
Who seems to need someone to be kind to them?
Who does he or she want to be, in the culture at school?
Who does he feel like God has called him to be?
I firmly believe, if more kids believed they made a difference, both in person and online…if we were encouraging them to reach out, instead of getting stuck with them in the spiral of who’s not reaching out to them…if we continued to value their character more than their happiness…if we talked with them more than at them…if they felt encouraged and empowered to use the gifts God has placed inside of them to make a difference, our schools would be safer—both physically and emotionally.
And, in the light of the culture we’re all in, kids need to hear it. They also need to talk to you about what to do if they do feel unsafe at school. Ask them what they’ve learned about a safety plan from their school. It’s good for them to have to repeat it, to make sure they’ve understood what it is. If they don’t know it, call the school and have them either go over it again, or get one in place. Talk to them about specific steps they can do if they’re outside or in a location without a teacher. Check their phones regularly—to see if they’ve been a victim of or participated in any type of bullying. They need our help navigating these times—physically, emotionally and spiritually…which is, undoubtedly, the most important.
Your child needs to hear today that he is loved deeply by a God who delights in him, and loves him with a saving, redemptive love. He will never allow her to be snatched out of His hand (John 10:28-30). And, sometimes, in these days, it’s good to huddle up together, and read basic, good, comforting truth—like the words of the Jesus Storybook Bible.
“And the King says, ‘Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away. Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying, because all those things are gone. Yes, they’re gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue. And see—I have wiped away every tear from every eye!’ And then a deep, beautiful voice that sounded like thunder in the sky says, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’”