We are a month into the new school year and all is going well at our house. Then I drove by the convenience store with the flags flying at half-staff. Without thinking, I turned to my 15 year old son and said “I wonder who got shot that the flags are flying at half- staff?” He didn’t answer me and looked out of the other car window. Later I reflected on my off-handed comment. Deep sadness and regret came over me for making such a flippant remark. Regrettably this is the world my children have to grow up knowing.
I think of the victims when I hear of a school shooting. Of course, I feel the loss for the parents, family members and friends that will now have a huge hole in their lives – a hole that can never be filled. Then my thoughts go to the shooter(s). What had happened to him that caused so much pain that a belief developed wherein an act like this was the only way to let go of the pain?
What about his parents? In general, many cases parents are not equipped to deal with the emotional and social aspects of the teen brain. We often parent our children just like we were parented, unless we make a conscious, self-aware effort to do something different. Was such an effort made?
I think about the teachers who interacted with this troubled child. Was he treated with care, compassion, and respect? Was there one adult he felt safe enough to talk to about his situation? It’s interesting to me that shootings so often happen in schools. What resentment does the shooter carry around in his heart towards the school, peers and staff that causes him to commit an act of violence?
I have been working in the area of social and emotional learning for over 10 years. Over those years I have learned that building a connection with a caring, compassionate adult is so important in the life of a child – an adult who will listen and make a serious attempt to understand the child. Let’s say that the shooter had that kind of adult in his life, an adult that would be able to connect with him. How would his actions have been different? How would the outcome be different?
I know that my many questions will not be answered easily. Each political or activist group believes that each has the “right” answers and solutions for acts of violence; however, it’s much more complex than any one simple solution.
The Search Institute, a research organization in Minneapolis, has a list of 40 positive supports and strengths a young person needs to succeed. One of the areas is support: care from family, other adults, community members and school staff. When a young person feels supported by the adults around him/her, there is a decrease in high risk behaviors. Simple ways to connect with youth can happen in your community. YOU can a play a part in the solution!
Here are 10 ways you can increase your compassion and connect with a child.
- Take an interest in an activity a teen you know is involved in by attending the activity, or asking questions of the teen. Then listen.
- Ask a teen what they are really interested in doing. What are her passions? What really sparks his interests? Then listen.
- Play a game of pick-up basketball with a group of kids for fun.
- Invite kids on the sidelines to participate in a game.
- Give an authentic and specific compliment to a child. Example could be “Wow, I really admire how you organized the books on the shelf.”
- Do a random act of kindness for a kid.
- Ask “What are your dreams?” Then listen.
- Accept a child for who he or she is, a unique individual in this world.
- Make sure making mistakes is “okay” for both kids and adults. Help understand the ways things can be done better in the future.
- Breathe deeply before saying something that could hurt a child.
If you take action on even some of these ten simple activities, over time you will build compassion in not just the other person, but also in you. These actions will not solve the complex problem of violence in our world; however, it is a start.