How to talk to students about gun violence in schools

October 10, 2022

The following article preview originally appeared on Campus Safety, an organization dedicated to sharing information about the public safety and security of hospitals, schools and universities in the United States.

Since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, more than 311,000 U.S. students have experienced gun violence at school. While gun violence in schools is still rare, and mass shootings even rarer, there are still at least 311,000 families who have had to speak with their children or teens about gun violence and the many complicated topics that are inextricably intertwined.

Even if a family or school hasn’t been directly impacted by gun violence in schools, it is likely their children or students have questions and fears surrounding it. As adults, processing something as senseless and terrifying as a school shooting is extremely difficult and in some cases nearly impossible to fathom, so it’s understandable that children and teens might have a difficult time as well.

For students who witness school violence, it’s safe to say most of their lives have been forever changed.

“With children, in particular, safety and stability are really the two most important things that they need. They thrive in environments where there’s predictability, where there are boundaries, where they know what’s coming next. When incidents like [a school shooting] happen, they completely shatter any kind of sense that children may have had of knowing what is going to come up during the next period, what is going to come up when I go home after school, what’s going to happen tomorrow and the day after,” Teodora Pavkovic, a psychologist and parenting coach, said in an interview with Campus Safety.

“They might struggle to make sense of not just the incident that happened, but life in general. Any concept of life they may have had up until that point may really be shaken. They may start to expand their fears into other areas, things that don’t really seem particularly rational or realistic.”

Children and teens who have not directly experienced school violence can also be significantly impacted.

“For kids who weren’t in the school where the tragedy happens, kids who are watching the news or hearing about it, their first questions will be around, ‘Can this happen at our school as well? That school looks kind of similar to ours. Those kids kind of look like the kids I see every single day. Could someone come and do this at our school?'” Pavkovic said.

How to Talk to Students About School Violence: A Breakdown by Age

While not all students will fall perfectly into these categories based on factors such as their emotional maturity, Pavkovic says that, dependent on age, there are different approaches that can be taken and considerations that can be made when discussing school violence (8:46).

“It’s important to keep in mind that each child will be different and each parent knows their child the best, first and foremost. Then the teachers who spend sometimes even more time with these kids than their parents do will also know best in terms of their maturity level,” she said. “These [recommendations come from] fields like psychiatry and pediatrics. Some of these recommendations give us a general sense of when to talk to kids about it, when not to, and how to do it.”

To learn more about how to take a proactive approach to maintaining and improving student safety, read the full article at Campus Safety

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