Who can forget the images from April 20, 1999, as we watched what was until then the worst school shooting in history unfold on television news. When it was all over, 15 people at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, were dead, including gunmen Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, who turned their guns on themselves.
Read Related: Post-Theater Massacre, Aurora Moms Not Scared
In the years since, more school shootings and too many more deaths as a result have occurred. But Columbine was the moment that it all changed; when we realized our children’s safety at school was not guaranteed, and that we had to have conversations with the, about bullying, depression and school violence. The questions Columbine raised were numerous, and many were unanswerable. Here are 12 issues related to Columbine and school shootings that parents and their kids must discuss together.
“So, I understand what it’s like to be picked on. But I can’t understand why anyone would turn to guns. Guns are not the answer. I learned that on April 20, 1999. That day was definitely the worst day of my life.” —Melissa Miller (Columbine survivor)
1. When you experience/survive a traumatic event, it’s important not to isolate yourself. The Columbine survivors learned you can’t hide your feelings or your fears; you have to face them. By addressing them you learn to process them; you can’t run in fear your entire life.
2. When you feel depressed, help is available. Everyone is moody at times and teens are no exception. If you are a teen growing more detached from the world around you, if you’ve lost interest in friends, families and activities, you may be depressed. Don’t delay in finding a trusted adult or organization/teen hotline to talk to. Schools recognize that bullying (one of the factors behind the Columbine shootings) can lead to depression in teens.
3. If you know a depressed teen, you can try to help. Try to talk to and support your friend and tell a trusted adult that you are worried for him or her. Sometimes, it takes more than friendship to help a person get back to normal. If a friend feels alienated and finds no interest in life, he or she may need professional help to get back on track.
4. You have to deal with bullying. Nearly everyone faces a bully at least once in their life. More and more, schools and organizations realize how damaging bullying can be and are taking stronger measures to stop bullying in its tracks. If you are a child being bullied, find out where to go for help.
5. If you see or hear rumors—at school or on social media—that someone is planning something in your (or any) school, tell an adult right away. It’s hard to think that those we know could plan or carry out a dreadful act like the Columbine shootings. History, unfortunately, shows that Columbine was just the first of many horrifying events. Frequently, those planning acts of violence brag about their plans or post messages on social media. It is vitally important that you share this information with your parents and school officials.
6. Find something to belong to (group, club) at school where you feel accepted. There’s a place for everyone in the world though sometimes, it takes a bit of looking to find it. Seek a group that shares your interests and get involved. Make friends with people who like to do what you like to do.
7. Know what to do in case of emergency at school. Pay attention to fire drills and emergency preparedness drills. People who survive mass shootings did so because they knew the drill, literally, they kept their heads and followed directions to safety.
8. Discuss violent video games and movies with your kids, and make sure they don’t take for granted, but think critically about the images they see. Games and movies have ratings for a reason; not all games and movies are right for all ages. Discuss what your kids are watching or which games they’re playing and point out the difference between computer graphics and real life. You are still your child’s best teacher.
9. Discuss gun safety. If you are a gun owner, be sure your kids understand gun safety and don’t have access to your firearms. If you aren’t a gun owner, be sure your kids know what to do in the presence of a gun; leave, don’t touch it, tell an adult.
10. Teach your kids to help others who have survived a disaster or trauma. It’s hard for adults to know what to say when a friend suffers a disaster or trauma; it’s even harder for kids. Sometimes words mean little and actions a lot. Letting a friend talk about the experience, letting him or her go through the emotions of the memory without judging is the kindest thing to do.
11. Teach your kids how to find joy and appreciation in the face of adversity. Children need to learn there is good in the world, that they do not have to live with the fear that evil will find them. Live your own life with hope and look for joy in life, and teach your children to do the same.
12. Teach your kids to be good, caring friends to others and reach out if they see someone who seems socially isolated. You can’t befriend everyone but you can be friendly to those you meet. A simple greeting or a smile can make the difference between a stranger and a friend. Let your children know it’s not a violation of trust to ask a parent for help when a friend seems down or depressed. A good friend knows when to help out.