I never dreamed when I became a parent that I would have to worry about gun violence or have a talk with my daughter someday about mass shootings. I know I’m not alone here. Millions of parents are feeling the same way right now. It’s an awful, gut-wrenching thing to think about but we have to arm ourselves with knowledge on how to handle the next one. Because it’s not a matter of if but when the next attack will take place. They are increasing in frequency…. monthly, weekly and almost daily in this country with no signs of slowing down. And truthfully, I’m afraid. Afraid of the world my daughter is growing up in. I feel powerless. I can’t be with her every waking second to protect her from a crazed gunman who storms into her school or if she goes out dancing with friends when she’s older. It’s a feeling of helplessness that parents in America are all too familiar with thanks to the acts of selfish cowards with guns.
I don’t remember my mom ever talking to me about gun violence as a kid, and that’s coming from a native Oklahoman where guns are the norm in most families. It just wasn’t an issue. We didn’t talk about it in social circles because it didn’t happen to the degree it does now. And here I am many years later with a daughter of my own, trying to figure out what to say to her if there’s a shooting at her school, or church, or park. Or anywhere. She’s far too little right now to understand what’s going on in Orlando so we have some time before we really delve into the talk. But I’m a planner so I want to be prepared. And I’m a researcher so I like to see what’s out there in the hopes that it will help another parent who’s feeling the same way. And what better way to help parents get the conversation started than by using films, TV shows and games that kids can relate to. Here’s what I’ve found so far.
1. Hollywood is tapping into social issues
Slowly, filmmakers are seeing a need for films that talk about mass shootings. There aren’t a lot of features that tell stories of mass murders. I think because Hollywood is afraid to glamorize gun violence and honestly people aren’t going to the theater to see those types of movies. There are a few documentaries…One called Newtown, another is Under the gun. And a film called Speaking is Difficult which is a living documentary. It starts with the San Bernardino terror shooting, and every time there is a new mass shooting the filmmaker AJ Schnack updates the film. It’s very powerful, yet shows no violence. You can watch it online first and see if it’s something you want to watch with your kids to get a conversation started.
2. Mr. Rogers Talks Gun Violence
I came across an old clip from Fred Rogers just after John Lennon was assassinated. The reason’s for his chat are dated, but the information he shares and the WAY he shares it for little ears is so calming. Mr. Rogers starts off his lesson by simply stating, “There are people in the world who are so sick, and so angry, that they sometimes hurt other people”. If your kids aren’t familiar with Mr. Rogers then maybe parents will find this video helpful because of the tone he uses, and the words he uses to explain what’s going on during a shooting.
3. TV shows tackling mass shootings
I don’t necessarily recommend you use these as a barometer for how to talk with your kids. These are just a few examples of some shows that have tried to address shootings. Generally, TV shows that have episodes dedicated to some type of mass shooting aren’t very well received. Many parents think they’re promoting or glamorizing violence instead of deterring it. For example, Glee did an episode a few years ago called “Shooting Star” (yikes) about a student with Downs Syndrome who mistakenly brings a gun to school, sending all our favorite characters into a dramatic fear-filled spiral. Some people thought it aired too soon after the Newtown mass shooting and was in poor taste. In fact a lot of shows like One Tree Hill, Degrassi and throwing it way back to My So Called Life have all done a school shooting episode to mixed reviews. It’s because of these mixed reviews that I think many producers don’t want to do those story lines. It’s really hard to tell a truthful story about terrorist attacks and gun violence without sensationalizing it.
4. When you do talk, make it relatable
Even when I’m ready to have the talk about guns with Channing I would want to make it appropriate for her age. You wouldn’t have the same talk with your 3yo as you would your 12yo or teenager. Some younger kids probably have no idea what’s going on and depending on your comfort level you may not want to bring it up with them or watch news coverage with them in the room. Common Sense Media recommends turning off the TV when news about shootings are on for kids under the age of 7. What movies have they seen with “violence” or action scenes with gun fights? Or what video games are they playing? Are they afraid when they see gun violence? Make sure they understand the clear difference between comic book action in movies like Captain America and X-Men, and what’s happening in the real world. If you think there is a difference. Some parents make think the violence is as alarming in comic book movies as in real life. Using the things they’ve seen on film and on TV is a great way to start the discussion with them about guns, gun safety.
5. Gun Safety App
This one might be a bit controversial. But there are several apps available that teach gun safety to kids. There is one in particular called Eddie Eagle which was created by, you guessed it, the NRA. They claim is way to teach kids how to be safe around guns. The only way I could see this as useful is if you want to teach your kid not to be afraid of guns, but to understand them better. Knowledge is power and if they learn about these weapons maybe as they grow up they will be better equipped to stand up to the NRA and literally, use their own weapons against them.
6. Set the tone
As parents it’s our responsibility to only allow the types of media that reflects our values and mindset in our homes. What we watch on TV and in the theater, will ultimately set an example for our kids and be what THEY want to watch. commonsensemedia.org has some great statistics that back this up. And they say, “Although experts agree that no single factor can cause a nonviolent person to act aggressively, heavy exposure to violent media can be a risk factor for violent behavior.” So parents have to be aware of what they’re watching when kids are around. Too much exposure to gun violence can desensitize kids to it and they begin to think that it’s commonplace, when it isn’t.
7. Reinforce Optimism
Your kids want to feel secure and comforted when faced with tragedy. I always want to reinforce to Channing that she’s safe, and secure while at the same time not diminishing her feelings. What you don’t want is them to be afraid to go to school or the park. If you decide to have the talk with them about the Orlando shootings, and reassured them (as best you can), try to get them back into their routine. Let them know the world isn’t all bad, and there is still good! Volunteer for a charity, find a new art class to take together, take them to see Finding Dory, watch their favorite Nick Jr show or better yet make fun mini-movies with them to help them be kids again. Do whatever you can to instill that childlike optimism again because we need it to counteract the evil in this world. A distraction might be good for you too. After all, you don’t want to dwell on this tragedy so don’t let your kids do it either.
Do you have TV shows or movies that have helped you talk to your kids about mass shootings? I’d love to hear it! Share your thoughts in the comments below or on the MIH Facebook and Twitter and let me know how you plan to use various mediums to start a conversation with your kids.