It IS Parents’ Fault

As I walked my children to the bus stop today, it occurred to me that putting them on that bus and sending them to school has become an act of courage. In the wake of every new school shooting, terror grips my heart as I grieve for the children and teachers who lost their lives and wonder if my children and their classmates are next.

It’s very easy to feel helpless and frozen by the sheer horror of these tragedies. After we overcome the initial shock, it is natural to ask what went wrong and what we can do to prevent it from happening again. Over the past week, I’ve watched on social media as this conversation unfolded and this evening I attended a safety meeting for Massillon City Schools and listened to parents’ suggestions. With each passing day, I become a little more dismayed at some of the knee-jerk proposals I am hearing.

I’ve noticed several themes of unsupported and emotion-driven reactions to school shootings. Many of these are red herrings, distractions from talking about the real issues and real solutions. I’ve watched as people proposed that teachers be armed (which experts say is asinine, colossally stupid, and would make a lot of problems worse) and that we put prayer back in schools (which is theologically problematic, misunderstood, and ignores evidence to the contrary)  The most troubling, though, is the age old bad parenting argument.

To be certain, there are some subpar parents out there whose neglect and abusive behaviors can create generations of children and adults in crisis. Just recently, an American Academy of Pediatrics study found that only 34.9% of parents/caregivers with children who have a history of self-harm risk factors stored their firearms locked and unloaded in the home. This is alarming and not to be ignored.

While there is no denying that bad parents exist, and we all can do better when it comes to parenting our children, this notion that shootings occur because “kids these days” are terrible and parents are not disciplining their children like in the good old days is a false narrative, built on assumptions that are just not factually correct or supported by credible evidence.

One of the myths I see spreading is that parents don’t discipline their children. While discipline in an important piece of effective parenting, it seems that many people are confusing discipline with punishment. Experts agree the most effective style of parenting is authoritative. This is an approach that sets clear rules and high expectations, but is founded in warmth, love, and support.

Aside from neglect, the least effective parenting strategy is authoritarian. These are parents who require blind obedience and sometimes use corporal punishment and negative verbal abuse. Kids who are subjected to this type of parenting often experience mental illness, low self-esteem, and are more prone to violence and bullying. There is absolutely zero science that shows positive effects of hitting children and a plethora of evidence that indicates the opposite, despite all of the Facebook memes that claim using violence to discipline children will help to curb gun violence.

Vaguely blaming bad parents and “kids these days” is devoid of meaning and feels like a cop out. Placing blame is much easier than doing any real research or difficult soul searching. The reality is that yes, the increase in school shootings is parents’ fault, but not like we think it is.

I was a Sophomore in college when  two teens in Columbine massacred 12 of their classmates and 1 teacher using an arsenal of firearms and explosives. My friends and I gathered around a tiny television set in their dorm room and sobbed as we watched the news coverage of the attack unfold. We couldn’t wrap our brains around how something so tragic could have happened to kids just a little younger than we were.

Thirteen years and multiple mass shootings later, my husband and I were at lunch learning the gruesome details about the massacre of elementary school children and teachers in Sandy Hook. This time, instead of being fearful for our peers, we had to face the reality that those children could have been our children. We grieved with parents whose children’s bodies had been torn apart by bullets while their teachers tried desperately to save them. Those images give me nightmares to this day.

It’s now 2018 and we’re on pace to experience a record number of school shootings this year. In addition to schools, churches, concerts, malls, and workplaces have been targets of gun violence. Since Sandy Hook, mass shootings continued to occur at a staggering pace across the country, to the point where some fear we are becoming desensitized to them.

The United States of America has the highest rate of gun deaths among developed countries. While school shootings grab the headlines, thousands of Americans are dying from gun-related homicides, suicides, and accidents. Gun violence is so prevalent that The American Medical Association and multiple other health organizations have called for it to be treated as a public health crisis.

Given these grim statistics, what are we, as parents, doing about it? Nothing much, aside from wringing our hands and posting on Facebook, it seems. And that is where we all have failed.

We have allowed extremists to prevent us from saving our children’s lives. We have ignored harsh realities and retreated in defeatist fashion, assuming that because our lawmakers refuse to take steps to curb the gun violence epidemic in this country, we are helpless.

We have allowed the conversation to be hijacked by extremists and special interest groups like the NRA, whose organization has evolved from representing responsible gun owners to protecting the profits of gun manufacturers at any cost, even the lives of our nation’s children.

We have remained silent as common sense legislation and fact-based solutions were ignored and replaced with ideological nonsense and fallacy-laden slogans like, “good guys with guns” and “guns don’t kill people, people do.”

We have stood by as our country evolved into a place where owning a weapon that can murder 17 teenagers and teachers in 3 minutes, tearing through their bodies and shredding them beyond repair, is acceptable.  Where people increasingly stockpile weapons, are not required to register them, and can obtain them without a background check or by using loopholes in the background check system.

We have failed our children over the past 20 years and we must make it right.

This will not be easy, but good parenting rarely is. We must force ourselves to cast aside ideological stances and move beyond simplistic reasoning. We must stop placing blame on “kids these days” and “bad parents”, and instead hold ourselves accountable for our own inaction. Our children deserve that we have the courage to speak up, speak out, and demand action from our representatives, whether they belong to the same political party or not.

The issue of gun violence is multi-faceted, complex, and deeply ingrained in American culture. Our country is drowning in firearms.The US has the highest number of guns per capita in the world and the loosest gun restrictions amongst developed nations. Couple this with what many call a deadly obsession with guns, and what results is a uniquely American gun problem.

Moving forward will require educating ourselves and our fellow citizens. We will have to explore comprehensive approaches and listen to multiple perspectives. We must be open to new ideas and be humble enough to admit when the facts do not align with our preconceived notions.

We must listen to experts and use evidence and logic to make decisions. Most importantly, we must not be afraid to call out extremists and recognize the dark motives of people who want to silence the voices of our children who are begging for change.

We must reject the false dichotomy of being pro-gun or anti-gun, stop making assumptions about the “other side,” and presenting straw man arguments that misrepresent others’ perspectives. We need all reasonable citizens, gun enthusiasts and pacifists alike, to engage in thoughtful, informed, and fact-based conversations.

The logical middle, the rational voices have not been loud enough. We need to take back the conversation and hold our representatives accountable for refusing to take reasonable actions to curb gun violence. We have voted for these men and women despite their refusal to address the epidemic of gun violence. We have not insisted that our children’s lives are more important to our representatives than the support of the NRA and gun manufacturers.

I don’t have all of the answers and, yes,  important facets other than improving gun laws and tightening restrictions need to be considered. We must address mental health, toxic masculinity, sensationalism of violence, bullying, depression, poverty, and a multitude of other cultural concerns, but we cannot use these other issues to avoid taking action on guns.

We must find ways to keep our children safe, addressing the reality that it is incredibly easy for anyone to obtain a firearm. The number of firearms currently in circulation puts our children at risk, not just at school, but more often in their own homes.

The work involved in improving the world for our children will be exhausting, but I am so tired of doing nothing. Good parents recognize when their children are in danger and do everything they can to protect them. Good parents make responsible decisions based upon credible information and advice from experts. Good parents listen to our children and put their needs ahead of everything else. Good parents admit their mistakes and work to make amends.

The good parents of America can be a force for change. We can work to undo decades of inaction and help to create a culture shift that will protect future generations from the threat of gun violence. We can propose consistent and incremental changes that value everyone’s rights, but prioritize the common good and safety of our communities. We will not completely solve this problem, but doing nothing is no longer an option. If we choose to remain silent, then we can safely say that kids these days will continue to suffer because of bad parents.

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