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Angry Moms vs Gun Violence: Helping Our Kids Survive the School Year

I was looking at bulletproof hoodies today.

The Back-to-School sections are overflowing with backpacks and folders and a million different colored pens; so many things that my daughter is excited to pick out for her first day of Kindergarten. All of her fantasies involve endless crafts, playtime, and friends. For her, the important decisions are whether she wants the dinosaur pencil case or the mermaid one. 

And I’m looking at bulletproof hoodies.

It’s kind of twisted, I know. Kindergarten is this huge milestone full of growth and excitement. Yet here I am, stuck thinking about somebody pulling a gun on a group of 5-year-olds.  

I wish I could be happy for her but I can’t shake that deep sense of dread that settles into my stomach whenever I think of sending her off to school. Between the years I spent attending public schools in the United States and the time I currently spend working in them, the threat of a mass shooting has always been something I needed to be aware of. This isn’t new information to me. I have sat through so many trainings and drills that the whole thing feels disturbingly normal.

But, it’s so different when your child is the potential target. As an adult, it’s easy to picture how I might respond in a shooting. We have been told the best methods of survival a million times.

We learn to stay down. Stay quiet. Even when the bullet hits you or when the police officer tells you to yell for help. You learn that if you smear your friend’s blood on you and lay very still then your attacker could mistake you for already dead. You learn to stand on the toilet when you are hiding in the bathroom and hoping that maybe no one checks for you in the stall.

Then, there is my daughter. She is only 5 and has no idea that there are people in the world that would kill her just to end up on the news. She has no idea that people keep letting it happen in the name of defending a law written hundreds of years ago by people who thought most of the population belonged to them. 

What would she do? Would she hide like she was supposed to? Or would she panic like you’d expect any other child to in that situation? Will the adults that are supposed to protect her actually take action? Or will she be forced to survive on her own while cops wait outside for an hour?

As these thoughts stay in rotation in my head, one keeps standing out more than others.

Why the hell is this her responsibility? 

What is the point of a government that decides it can’t even be bothered to keep kids safe at school? The same politicians screaming “protect the children” when it comes to abortion or critical race theory, seem to have no problem leaving my daughter to fend for herself against a gunman.

There have already been 27 school shootings this year. That is 27 times this year where our government leaders had to look at the issue of gun violence in this country and decided the lives of our children were an acceptable loss. 

We get to worry about our kids dying at school, just so they can keep their money from the National Rifle Association (NRA). 

If you’re like me and feeling pretty powerless in this situation, there are steps that you can take and discussions you can have with your children that might help set your mind at ease. 

Talk to your children about the possibility of a shooting.

Yes, even with the little ones. It’s hard for me to look my daughter in the face and tell her people want to hurt her. I think it would be hard for anyone. But it is easier than the thought of her getting caught in that situation confused and unprepared. 

Try your best to keep the conversation age appropriate but never lie when they ask questions; even ones you thought they weren’t old enough to be asking.  

Pick out “safe” adults.

Help your child choose adults that they trust to take care of them in an emergency. It could be their teacher, a parent helper, or even the janitor as long as it is someone your child trusts. School employees are trained to care for students in an emergency and are required to protect them to the best of their ability. 

Personally, I don’t find it useful to tell kids to find police officers in an emergency. The Campus PD are not required by law to protect anyone who isn’t in police custody and that issue has arisen in more than one school shooting. I’d suggest them as a last resort.

If you do want to include first responders in your “safe adults”, I would recommend advising your children to seek out Paramedics, EMTs, or Firefighters. Ambulances and firetrucks are normally very big, making them easier for kids to spot in a chaotic situation and they will be able to immediately assess if your child needs any medical attention. 

Help your children recognize the difference between someone that wants to help them vs someone that wants to hurt them.  

Teach them “Run. Hide. Fight.”

“Run. Hide. Fight.” is a really basic concept that they teach in school shooter trainings. It is exactly what it sounds like:

  • Step One: Run. If you aren’t somewhere safe, run away. Try to stay low and move in a zigzag pattern.
  • Step Two: Hide. Only hide if you can’t get away. Hiding behind something solid like cement is ideal but anywhere out of sight is better than nowhere. Avoid hiding in places where there is no way for you to escape. Hiding in a crouch or on your hands and knees is better than standing. 
  • Step Three. Fight. An absolute last resort! Only fight when the other option is death. Adults would typically be expected to fight off the attacker but sometimes our children are alone in emergencies. Teach your children to prioritize fighting to escape instead of attempting to incapacitate an attacker. Fight in a group, if possible. Should the worst happen, things like fire extinguishers or sports equipment could buy your kids the extra time they need to get away.  

Besides those three steps, it is also important to let your kids know that there are no rules when it comes to protecting themselves. Break windows. Go into restricted areas. Whatever they need to do to stay safe.  

Talk to your kids about your anxieties.

Honestly, your kids might be anxious about it, too. Unless they are young like mine, your children have probably already been exposed to the topic of gun violence. They may have even already formed opinions about it! 

Create a space where your kids feel comfortable expressing their fears and frustrations. It can be a great relief just to know someone feels the same as you do. 

One day, I hope to have a government that we can trust to keep our children safe. Until then, it’s our job as parents to keep speaking out and making the extra effort to educate our students safely. As long as our politicians are too spineless to act, we will help our children with the responsibility of survival.

And I’ll keep shopping for bulletproof hoodies.


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Featured Image via Tim Mudd

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