This headline flashed constantly on December 14th in the hours after the horrific shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. Just minutes before the commercial break, ABC News interviewed several psychiatrists who spoke eloquently about "how to talk to our children." How do we explain to our youngest kids that a madman came into an elite bedroom community and opened fire on kindergarteners? How can we assure them that when we drop them off at their classrooms they will be OK?
The expert opinions were united. Turn off the television, look into your child's eyes and let him know that he is safe. Hug him. Tell your daughter or son that there are bad people who sometimes do awful things -- but these moments are very, very rare. Listen to their fears, let them talk out their concerns, hug them again and offer reassurance. You are safe. Shootings in a school, however prominent in the news, are less common than being struck by lightening. The ear-catching repeating audio from the television was sending entirely the wrong message.
Headlines like those that flooded the news on December 14th strike us at our very core. They point to our frailties and to the serious lack of control that we have over our children's lives. Despite the reference checks and school observations, we cannot totally protect our children from harm. Our children might trip on a stone in the schoolyard or fall off a jungle gym. What happened in Sandy Hook was not even on the parental radar screen.
What we can do, however, is not succumb to the drama. Our job is to ensure that our kids eat right, get enough sleep and go to places with caring, loving adults who will nurture them and help them reach their potential. The Sandy Hook parents like the rest of us, did just that. We can also turn off the televisions and radios so that the background din of dramatic headlines like the one used by ABC News never penetrate the ears of our children. Science tells us that the more you hear something -- the more you believe it. If you listen to a constant mantra of "No one is safe," it soon becomes truth and we and our children will come to believe that there is danger around every corner.
From the ashes of this nightmare, we might also reflect on the values of the society in which we raise our children. First, listen to the firsthand accounts of the teachers who worked at Sandy Hook. In their voices you hear not only from the purveyors of math and reading, but about their love for our children and a commitment to put themselves in harm's way to protect our children's safety. Teacher bashing has been a national sport for the past 10 years. Perhaps, in light of their testimony we can begin to see how teachers -- one of our prime natural resources -- are so much more than mere fact dispensers.
Second, in memory of the 20 little children, we might also revisit our views on gun control. The research strongly suggests that gun laws do make a difference. States that exercise gun control have fewer killings. Most of the killings that occurred from 1982 to 2012 were done with legally obtained weapons. We are told by gun advocates that people kill and that guns do not. But if the wrong people can easily get guns, they may use them in tragic ways.
It is time to start a national discussion about how to make sure that our youngest citizens are safe and that their parents do not have to worry when they drop them off at school. And instead of the news channels blasting frightening headlines that scare us into a new world view, perhaps they can use their tremendous reach to start a serious discussion of how we can best protect and support our children by respecting their teachers and by limiting access to automatic weapons.