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How I Talked to My Daughter Last Night about School Shootings

We had a tough conversation last night.

One I never imagined in a million years that we’d have when she was born.

We’ve set a pattern for talking with openness through the years.

We don’t watch much TV but I found occasion last week when we were traveling in Florida that we needed to avert eyes (having lunch in a spot that had a tv a few hours from the incident so news coverage might have been even heavier where we were).

At the heart of it, just like I don’t want her learning about sexuality on the schoolyard, I don’t want her to hear details about this from a random newscast in a public place or with peers. 

They’ve been having drills at school (like 90% of the other schools in our country) but she didn’t know exactly why they were having the drills…a vague sense that it was in case someone got into the school that shouldn’t be there.

Like recommended by various professionals, we kept her shielded from knowledge of school shootings…from what I’ve seen, that applies to all elementary school levels and Audrey is in 5th grade.

A friend had mentioned on a recent walk that it came up in her son’s 6th grade middle school class a few months ago so I knew we were inching closer.

Jason called after dropping her off at school, “Audrey mentioned that her school windows are bulletproof and she’s asking some questions – I think we are going to need to talk about this”…so if any of you are in the same boat, then perhaps the thoughts I jotted down for our family talk will be helpful.

I let her know there was a recent incident in a school where a student harmed other children.

And said –

  • We focus on what we can control
  • Life is not well spent concentrating on the fear of what could happen but we would like as parents to offer some knowledge that she does not have yet
  • In each of these incidents (because there has been more than one), there have been heroes (no specific stories were shared) and helpers that showed how beautiful humanity could be.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

Mr. Rogers
  • It’s normal to wonder if this can happen at your school. Your headmaster has taken significant precautions in the last few years to make school safer by having outside doors remaining locked, a second set of doors at the front by the office, he’s confirmed with police and even formed and met with a safety committee of individuals with expertise.
  • There’s an important difference between possibility & probability – it is highly unlikely this will happen.
  • An important defense in these situations are students like you – if you see someone with a weapon/or hear a conversation that leads you to think someone is considering bringing one, tell an adult immediately.
  • As parents, we filter your exposure to media surrounding these sad circumstances – now, we’re asking that you do that as well.  If you’re in computer class and notice a headline related to this, please do not read it.

I thought about what I wanted the message for her to hear about this to be and for me, it was important for her to understand that even in the presence of darkness, there are beautiful lights.

We’d read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom over Christmas break which illustrated these thoughts about even with the horror of being in the Holocaust, Corrie’s family was a light.

I shared my belief that there is no peace apart from Jesus Christ and that our family value of love could be displayed even in difficult circumstances. If we see division and factions in humanity we are short-sighted.

We are all connected.  We’re in this together.   And that’s the only way to move forward.

There’s an adversary that will throw everything he has at us – we need to actively strengthen ourselves so we can endure.  That’s how we walk with unshakeable peace, love and faith.

I read her the message that Alaina Petty’s parents posted on Facebook immediately following the most recent incident in Florida:

While we will not have the opportunity to watch her grow up and become the amazing woman we know she would become, we are keeping an eternal perspective.

We are grateful for the knowledge that Alaina is a part of our eternal family and that we will reunite with her. This knowledge and unabiding faith in our Heavenly Father's plan give us comfort during this difficult time.

We shared some tactical things that we hoped as parents she would remember in the very unlikely event this occured and closed our discussion with 2 scriptures and discussed her concerns and feelings.

  • In these situations, groups of people are targets – if you can make it to an exit, do.
  • Be aware –  you won’t be able to process as quickly if you are overcome by emotions. We’ve seen how differently people react to the very same set of  circumstances.
  • Don’t stop to pick up a backpack/purse/anything – leave it…you want every available second
  • Don’t stop running until you are safe – only then stop to call 911
  • In this particular case (although in other circumstances, your loud voice might be helpful), be quiet – don’t scream & help others you’re with to do the same

We assured her that when we’re with her, we are aware as parents, but since we aren’t with her at all times (ie: at school), we wanted her to have this in her back pocket.  We expressed that we hope she’ll notice those at school without a friend, and that she’ll contribute to an atmosphere of kindness towards everyone.

The two scriptures we shared:

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.  John 10:10

Then I paraphrased Matthew 10:28 (because I couldn’t remember it exactly and it came to mind as we were discussing this):

Don’t fear what will kill the body, be concerned with what will destroy the soul.

I mentioned again that various difficult circumstances will happen as part of our life – we’re here to grow, we should expect hard things but we do what we can to prepare for that portion that is in our control…our reaction.

Years ago, when we read a sweet biography of Anne Frank, our faces were wet with tears over the evil of the Holocaust (I promise it was very much softened account!).

Last night, I saw her heart processing the sadness of these children being hurt.

I’m sure more questions will come and I told her to ask them and we’d give honest answers.

I don’t share this because it feels like the right way to do it.  I was immediately wondering if I should have done things differently, I still need to figure steps we can take to reach out to those who are hurting and do them together.

But I know other preteen parents are likely grappling with this and perhaps there will be something worth building on.

Just like the topic of human sexuality isn’t one conversation and we’re done, this won’t be either.  Also, we didn’t do this right before bed :)

This quote comes to mind:

It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.  -LR Knost

Somehow, I hope I informed her to the degree necessary while still allowing the other more important lessons to stay pre-eminent.

Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts so we can help everyone’s experience be better!  Imminently grateful for other parents who show the way.  The Parkers, parents who lost their 6 yr old daughter in Sandy Hook, have said:

“What I realized through this is there was a powerful evil that day, but the strength and power of God’s love I’ve seen was a million times over that.”

“People ask, ‘But where was your God when this happened? Why didn’t he stop it?”

“He allows for us all to make our own choices, good and bad, because that’s the only way good can be in us, is if we freely choose it over all else.

“Evil didn’t win that day. We’ll carry on that love like she had. It’s quiet, it’s not on the news, it takes effort to find but what I’ve realized through all of this is how strong and how big God’s love really is.”