It's that time of year when our teenagers are either starting high school, entering their stressful senior year when they apply to colleges or they are anxious about something going on in their sophomore or junior year. Let's face it. The high school years are not a cakewalk for any of us. I rarely run into anyone who wishes that they were back in high school. In fact, many of us have successfully suppressed memories of our high school years. Yes, some people reached their peak in high school but that, too, is likely not a positive thing. We spend most of our lives not being in high school.
So as our teens are going back to school there is a new concern that we may want to address with them and that is school safety. Keep in mind, that just last week a would-be school shooter entered an elementary school in Georgia with a rifle and several rounds of ammunition. Thankfully, he did not shoot the kids.
Parents are asking me repeatedly whether or not to talk to their teens about school shootings and whether this will help reduce their anxiety. I have a lot to say about this because every teen has a different level of anxiety and is unique in so many ways.
First, although school shootings have become more frequent in the past decade they are still a relatively rare event given how many schools there are in this country. Second, not every teen is experiencing anxiety about the safety of their school. In many cases, I must tell you that the parents are more anxious than the teens. So, before sitting down with your teen to discuss their anxiety about school safety do an evaluation of how anxious your teenager actually is. Ask the teen if they have any worries about returning to school. If they seem calm and relaxed then as a psychologist I suggest that you do not induce anxiety by insisting on talking about school shootings.
If, on the other hand, your teen is anxious about school safety and the possibility of school shootings then I suggest taking a different route. Find out where this anxiety is coming from. Is your teen picking up your anxiety? If so, then focus on controlling the message that you may be sending to your teen. There are several other steps that you will need to take as well. Talk to your teen about the facts including what safety precautions the school has in place. Does the school have a police officer? Does the school lock its doors? Have there been emergency drills? If so, what are the teachers and students taught to do in the event of a real or perceived threat? Teens tend to benefit a great deal from knowing that the adults around them have contingencies in place if they are in potential harm. Don't let them fool you. They relax significantly if they know that the adults around them literally and figuratively have their backs.
Let's collectively hope and pray that your teens do not have to deal with real or perceived school disasters this year. Nonetheless, no topic should be off limits: correct?