7 Powerful Things Teachers, Parents, and Kids Are Doing to Prevent School Shootings
Gun violence often starts with bullying or loneliness. Meet the local heroes who are working to address both issues—before tragedy strikes.
Ten-year-old Christian Bucks was nervous about his move to a new school for first grade, so he and his mother came up with a solution: Buddy Benches, aimed at bringing together kids who are lonely, new to town, and who typically have nobody to play with at recess and before and after school. Loneliness may not sound like a serious issue, but according to one survey, 80 percent of kids between 8 and 10 years old are feeling it, and it can lead to some very sad and troubling experiences that stick with them. Fortunately, as Christian’s mom told the Washington Post, “He’s always looking out for the person who might need a little help.” Now, Buddy Benches have taken off around the country and the world, where kids notice other kids sitting on these benches and either join them or invite them to play. Letters of appreciation have poured in from around the country, where children are letting Christian know just how much of a difference he’s made.
Blocking online threats
Some of the most dangerous threats children face today are not in school, but after school—on the Internet. Brian Bason, who works in mobile technology, decided to create Bark, a safety solution installed that alerts parents to signs of cyberbullying, mentions of suicide, and communication from online predators. “I didn’t like the idea of manually spot-checking my kids’ devices, as it’s a highly ineffective approach to monitoring their online activity, plus it’s time-consuming,” said Bason, noting that 80 percent of the time, parents are completely unaware of things like bullying or talk of suicide. “Our data has shown that 60 percent of kids face cyberbullying situations, and 15 percent mention self-harm.” To date, he says, Bark has saved lives by detecting imminent suicidal situations as well as shooting and bomb threats, and has made parents aware of issues such as depression and other mental health issues. “It’s important for kids to feel a sense of autonomy and like parents trust them, so this helps balance the privacy they want with the awareness parents need.” Here are more parental control apps to help keep kids safe.
Getting people talking about gun violence
In 1999, Donna Finkelstein’s daughter Mindy was shot by a neo-Nazi while working as a camp counselor at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. Finkelstein, a teacher and counselor herself, immediately joined the board of Women Against Gun Violence and has been speaking to parents, teachers, legislators, and community members for nearly 20 years. One of her initiatives, The Talk Project, helps parents talk to their children about guns, and talk to their friends and neighbors about gun violence and safe storage. The organization also distributes free gun locks upon request. “My goal is to place one pamphlet in every childn’s backpack before they go home,” she says of her school visits. Some school districts allow her to meet with parents, and others invite her to speak with students about the issue, including the rates of teen suicide and gun deaths. These facts about mass shootings in America are unavoidable.
Inviting everyone to the lunch table
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Kids who “don’t fit in” often face loneliness, social anxiety, and even physical violence, and the lunchroom can be a crucible for all three. One teen, Natalie Hampton, who had been pushed into lockers and physically attacked, realized that if kids could find more friendly faces, especially at lunchtime, the rates of this kind of abuse could potentially plummet. She invented the Sit With Us App to help teens find like-minded peers who are lunching and would welcome others to join without fear of rejection, according to a story on CBS. The app is free to download and has more than 100,000 users. Here’s another great example of how one victim of bullying turned it all around.
Looking for patterns in the classroom
There’s a teacher in America who, every single Friday afternoon since the school shooting in Columbine, has asked her students to engage in an exercise. They jot down four peers with whom they’d like to sit the following week and nominate one student they think has been an exceptional classroom citizen. The goal here is not to seat friends together or give out awards, however. Instead, the teacher uses the information as a social barometer, to determine which kids are being forgotten, left out, or excluded, and to keep tabs on changes in social situations that could set off alarms. The teacher then arranges for any kids who are struggling to get the help that they need. It is her strategy for fighting disconnection, which has been shown to lead to violence. Reader’s Digest shared this one teacher’s brilliant strategy for preventing loneliness from the popular blog momastery.com, and it went viral immediately after the tragic school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Preparing for emergencies
Alissa Parker and Michele Gay, two mothers who lost daughters in the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, have turned their grief into action, co-founding Safe and Sound Schools, a nonprofit that empowers communities to improve school safety and security by assessing their preparedness for emergency situations, creating concrete action plans, and refining the measures already in place. Parker and Gay conduct several programs to help schools around the country, make resources available online, and invite kids to become part of their student leader and ambassador programs, giving them toolkits to create program chapters in their own hometown communities. Along with other Sandy Hook parents, teachers and community members, they have reached hundreds of thousands of people to help provide safer schools for everyone.
Teaching kids how to avoid unsafe situations
Edward Burr created a children’s foundation 20 years ago to honor his wife, a tireless child advocate who died tragically. Today, the Monique Burr Foundation for Children offers prevention-based programs for kids in kindergarten through 8th grade, teaching them how to protect themselves in any number of abusive or threatening situations, from bullying to sexual abuse and everything in between. Because unfortunately, nearly 1 in 5 children who experience abuse are exposed to more than one type, according to a 2010 study. The results speak for themselves. “I had a mother of one of my third-grade students request a meeting with me over the summer,” says Michelle Harrison, school counselor at Cornerstone Academy in Orlando, Florida. “She wanted me to know that at a party, a family member approached her girls and asked them to play a special game in the garage. When they got there, they realized it was a red flag and got away. One of the girls told her mother, ‘I did just what Ms. Harrison told us to do, Mom.’” The information saved those girls from a potentially traumatic experience. “This program works because it gives a clear understanding of what to look out for and what to do,” Harrison adds.
Something you can do right now to help prevent future violence: Build kids up in ways that are meaningful and impactful. Here are tiny ways to encourage your child every day.