As a school psychologist, it is my job it is to be on top of every troubling incident that occurs in the schools today. It's true that it appears there have been many incidences of violence in schools resulting in tragedy these past several months.
I can also say that part of the reason I'm so aware of everything that's happening is the same reason other people are; which is access to information quickly through media and social media. It would be easy for me to believe, if I was not an informed and experience school psychologist, that these incidents occur much more frequently than they did 25 years ago when I first began practicing psychology.
The reality is these incidents are not more frequent than they were been 25 years ago. We are certainly hearing about them more and if we allow ourselves to believe that this means they occur more then we could put ourselves in a state of panic rather quickly. We may even begin to believe that the world, our world, is an unsafe place, starting in our schools. The data doesn't support that.
I do think there are some things that are different than they were 25 years ago or even 15 years ago and these include the following.
The Internet and social media have allowed people to become friends in an anonymous and discreet way that typically wouldn't be friends and would be interacting. While there are some positives to connecting online, some of the downsides are that it can create misperceptions. What I mean by this is that people might think somebody is their friend or interpret something that's written in social media and online in a way that isn't accurate and therefore their reality also becomes inaccurate.
Parents, educators and others who oversee children need to monitor their use of social media and educate them as to how they need to be aware of who they are interacting with and why. Innocent "friending" of people can lead to unnecessary stress and miscommunication if one party interprets contact through social media differently than another party. Teens need to know why they are communicating and how they're communicating to people.
When these incidences occur I think it's the responsibility of adults to communicate to children that schools are indeed safe. It's true that we are hearing more about unsafe and violent incidents in schools and this puts the burden of reassuring children that schools are safe on adults.
The children that are causing violence in schools and hurting others need mental health services and when we learn of these behaviors we can view them as red flags that children who need mental health care are not getting it. Children's access to mental health service is an ongoing concern.
Clearly teenagers and children who are hurting others are not in the correct frame of mind and they need help.
When these tragedies occur the best thing for parents to do is learn about what happened, keep access to media updates (without overexposure especially to children) and provide reassurance in a calm manner that the schools are safe and that life goes on as always.
Tragedies can be an opportunity for parents and children to do something positive to make the world a better place. Positive actions, even something small like being kinder or just listening better to others, helps to counteract against the trauma, sadness and the loss created by the tragic events. How people react to tragedy and how they use their emotions is the only thing they can control. Actions that are positive can be helpful to others.
Today our hearts and prayers go out to Maren Sanchez and her family.