By: Diana Bello Aristizábal
Currently, we are living in challenging times in many aspects. But perhaps the biggest challenge we face today is the way we are raising children or, in some cases, sadly leaving them unsupervised so they can deal with a world that tells them constantly violence is the path to follow.
This is not an over-the-top statement if we analyze the events that occurred during May in the United States: A mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, which left 10 people dead, and more recently, a school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 students and 2 teachers, and another at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, resulting in 4 fatalities.
Of those attacks, the ones in Buffalo and Uvalde were carried out by 18-year-olds. The author of the latter was Salvador Rolando Ramos, killed by the police after the incident, who is said to have had a difficult family life and had suffered from bullying.
These events are added to the 233 mass shootings that have taken place so far this year in national territory, according to the Gun Violence Archive. A mass shooting is defined as one in which at least four people are injured by gunshots.
The most concerning part about this situation is that many children and teenagers are seeing violence as something normal not only due to school shootings but to the fact they are constantly bombarded with violent content through video games, social media, and TV shows.
But can parents prevent a child from growing up to become a shooter? Erika Monroy, a clinical and educational psychologist specialized in emotional intelligence, says yes and shares some tips to prevent this situation from repeating itself.
Quality time, communication, and supervision
Salvador Rolando Ramos did not make the decision to shoot everyone who crossed his path on May 24th without first going through a series of events in his childhood that seriously compromised his mental health and forged a violent and hostile character.
For this reason, from stories like that of Ramos and other teenagers who have been involved in school shootings, it can be said that it’s essential to protect the mental health of children from an early age or to take the necessary corrective measures as soon as possible. “We are normalizing mental health illnesses like anxiety and depression and sometimes we let them slide,” says Erika.
The first step in this task is to spend quality time with children to know them in-depth and, in this way, notice on time when something is off. “If you’re a busy parent, make them a priority because you’re not going to see red flags in a child you don’t even know,” she advises.
Taking the time to find out how is everything at school, whether or not they ate, if they are in a good mood or not, and if there is any situation at home or at school that may be bothering them can make a big difference in children’s lives. In addition, that space can be used to watch and understand their behaviors, habits, and interests.
It’s about creating persistent conversations in which parents or caregivers practice active listening and not just limit themselves to talking. “You have to know how they feel and validate their emotions. Also, help them walk through moments of sadness or anger and sort out as a team those emotional conflicts that can be personal or family-related.”
But to do so patience needs to be practiced as some teenagers find it difficult to express emotions. However, it’s the parent’s responsibility seeking the opportunity to create closeness and strengthen the bond.
In this regard, setting a good example is key. “Model before them how you express feelings like anger, sadness or fear because in that way they learn how to handle those emotions.”
On the other hand, given that minors currently have an active life in the digital world, part of the parenting work involves following them on social media, understanding how they are using those platforms, what they are posting, the comments they receive and meeting their virtual and real-life friends as well as their families.
“Don’t accept sentences like ‘stay out of my life’. Dive into their lives with love, and check their backpacks, cell phones, or video games. Before the age of 21 and so long as children are not emotionally and financially independent, private property doesn’t exist.”
It can be useful installing programs on computers that allow parents to access the history of content viewed online by their children and to use locks for parental supervision. “It’s very important to educate yourself and understand the risks associated with surfing the Internet.”
Finally, setting limits with appropriate consequences is the best way to protect them from themselves and others. For example, make it clear what is the amount of time allowed to use electronic devices and what content is banned, such as that of a violent nature.
The following signs, although not an indicator that there is a potential shooter at home, they do warn of a problem that it’s wise to address, if necessary with the help of a professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist.
- Mysterious behavior that indicates he is hiding something
- Outbursts of anger
- Expressions of sadness, anger, or anxiety
- Sleep disorders
- Reluctance to go to school due to claims of being bullied by one or more classmates.
- Drug or alcohol use
- Mistreatment of animals or of other people
- Excessive time using violent video games
- Social isolation