Dearest, most Precious Readers:
Recent news in the State of Washington compels me to write about a tragic event that occurred on October 24th, 2014.
Jaylen Fryburg chose to shoot friends and family at his high school.
Before you close this page, I assure you that I will not be writing anything political about gun safety/availability or amendment rights. Instead, I am writing on a subject you all know is near and dear to my heart: children.
On posts past, I’ve mentioned that I have never planned to have children, nor any plans for planning a family now. So, why should I care?
We ALL should.
Why does a school shooting bother me perhaps more than the average blogger or news observer?
My husband, Pilot, worked for Marysville-Pilchuck High School in 2012.
Please realize that my concern would not be, in any way, lessened should my husband not have worked for the school.
School shootings are nothing to glean over. However, I also don’t believe it should be exploited for personal gain by using a devastating event for political platforms. The safety of children should always be a number one priority for every citizen of the planet Earth.
Much of the speculation-
…and at this point, that is all we can do: SPECULATE. SPECULATION DOES NOT EQUAL TRUTH.
-has been around the question of “Why?”
Why did he shoot his friends? His family?
He was popular!
He played sports!
He was well liked!
He seemed normal!
Let’s hone in on that word now, shall we? “Normal.”
What is normal? What is your perception of normal?
Pilot is not just a teacher, but he is a special education teacher. He has focused the majority of his career on children with emotional and behavioral disorders. Do you know what “normal” is for this group of children? Juvenile detention, abusive home lives, homelessness, drug dealing/addiction, being part of neighborhood gangs, violent tendencies, social workers, psychologists (if they can afford one), parole officers, etc. This is their “normal.” The average age of Pilot’s students? 15 years old.
The child in question in the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting was considered coming from a good home, with friends, popularity at school, extracurricular sports activities, etc. This was his “normal.”
There is a massive stigma against “loners,” “unpopular kids,” “goth,” etc. children that they are the usual suspects and the ones to watch for “threatening behavior.”
Earlier this year, the world lost an incredibly talented entertainer, Robin Williams, to suicide incurred due to depression. How many other countless celebrities can we name? Another loss last year, was Glee’s leading actor, Cory Monteith. From the 1990’s beloved actor Phil Harman was murdered by his wife. His wife shot their children, killed Hartman and committed suicide. Another local Washington state school experienced a shooting earlier this spring, Seattle Pacific University, a private college.
So what about last Friday? I am not going to propose any theories on this child’s life. I’m not going to demonize him and continue calling him “shooter.” He was a child. A child who made a horrible, irrefutably horrible and gruesome choice that has destroyed the lives of his family, the victims and their families, his classmates and the school’s faculty and staff, and anyone who is remotely connected to the school and the people of that school.
Based on new evidence coming to light, aka Twitter, it has come to the attention that several of Fryberg’s tweets from Twitter indicated disturbing “warning signs” that (in hindsight… and we all understand how hindsight works) should have indicated that there was major dissatisfaction with Fryberg.
Depression and pain doesn’t have a single type of face. It’s a feeling. It doesn’t hit one type of personality, race, gender, age, or background. It can occur in anyone. Stop making excuses and stop being an ostrich. A shooting could happen anywhere, and it could be caused by any one going through pain.
I’ve gone through and suffer depression myself. After a series of events between 2007-2009, I went on antidepressants. I was in great denial. It was after those closest to me suggested I talk with someone about the events during this two-year period (a post for another day) and that I should try to get help, it made me realize that if everyone was asking me to at least try it, I wasn’t being my normal perky, snarky self. I was in such denial about it, that it took several of my loved ones to talk bring it to my attention before I actually sought out help. Realizing I had a strong support net, even from people I’d least expect to be encouraging, is what pushed me forward. I couldn’t realize it for myself, it took others’ efforts to get through to me.
One of the things I’ve learned after watching years of Pilot navigating the delicate tightrope of emotional turmoil that his students face every day, boils down to a few key things:
Involvement: The key factor that unites all of the different problems these children face is lack of involvement from their parents/guardians. Either the parents/guardians are too busy to help their children, or they have no interest in how their children spend time.
Understanding: I don’t like to believe anyone is a lost cause. Adults seem to forget that children are much sharper than they’re given credit for. A child doesn’t necessarily need to be book smart to be intelligent. Many of the children I’ve seen Pilot work with are sharp, aware, and hyperaware of their environment.
Support: America has its priorities messed up. There, I said it, and I’ll say it again. America has its priorities messed up. We do not put enough value on education.
America does not put enough funding into our social work systems, the foster care system, education, mental care, medical facilities, and programs to assist with those who are homeless/jobless. Many of these children do not receive the necessary resources required to assist with their advancement.
Continuing with the support idea, many parents and those not involved in the school systems ask, “What are schools doing to prevent a shooting from happening again?”
The answer? You can’t.
I know that’s not the answer you wanted to hear. Sorry, you just can’t. No more than you can stop a corner store armed robbery from occurring.
Education lives in a rock and a hard place right now. All schools can do is have good security staff on hand, an emergency drill plan, clear communication channels to local law enforcement, and train their faculty/staff in self defense and classroom management in case a situation like this occurs. Faculty of every educational institution has to go through some type of psychology training. Some schools in rougher neighborhoods have metal detectors and body search wands (like at the airport).
Nothing is going to deter someone from wanting to inflict harm in others, except for one thing: Someone taking notice of that person’s behavior. You can have all of the training and preparation in the world. Taking control of how to handle a situation like that and executing routine practice drills is all of the control you can provide in that situation.
Silence is what kills. Not acting upon that piece of instinct within you to ask the tough questions. If you notice behavior is off with someone you know, it is worth the risk of creating an awkward situation by asking if something is bothering that person. I would much rather risk a friendship and dealing with an uncomfortable conversation, than no conversation occurring at all –with dire results as the aftermath.
I would rather risk a friendship and push conversations into the “tough stuff” so that the other person knows that I’m always there to listen, open mindedly (that’s key, here people), to what their thoughts are. You may not agree with their morals or ethics, you may not agree with their opinion, but being willing to listen in the first place and letting the person know they’ve been heard is usually the first step in alleviating anxiety, stress, pain and depression for the other person.
If you don’t feel comfortable confronting the person in regards to their change in behavior, speak with someone else close to that person.
Again, silence is what kills.
Kids today in general have so much more pressure. One key factor I believe causes this, is our world is smaller. Cell phones, internet, instant messaging, social media, texting, instagram, etc. has made our world more connected, yes, but it has also made each user be placed dead center under literally a world of scrutiny. Add in the typical pressures of a teenager, growing up, being an adult, still being a kid, academic pressure, extracurricular activity performance pressure, getting into college/not getting into college, home life, jobs, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends/in-between, now you throw in gender identity, dating, sex, love, marriage, hookups, breakups, SAT’s, GED’s, drugs, drinking, expectations/lack of expectations… the list goes on and on. It’s enough to make anyone cringe at those few, intense years that very few can say with 100% certainty that they survived unscathed.
Even the “normal” kids face incredible amounts of pressure I can barely keep up with to try and understand, and I wasn’t a teenager/young adult that long ago.
Break the silence. It’s better to have checked in with someone than let it go. I don’t know what was going through Fryberg’s mind leading up to and during October 24, 2014. I can guarantee, that child must have felt severely alone, desperate, angry, resentful and/or any combination of those emotions.
It isn’t a “type” of person who feels those things. Every human being has felt one or more of those emotions at some point in her/his life. Maybe his friends and family might have even talked to him about it leading up to it. A decision to kill isn’t born into someone. It’s caused.
We need to be made more aware of the people around us. Not with a discerning, skeptical, calculating eye, but with a caring, respectful, and genuine sense of community for each other.
For parents, all Pilot and I can both suggest as a method to staying Involved, Understanding, and Supportive:
- LISTEN to your kids. Don’t talk AT them, talk WITH them. I don’t always succeed in my execution of this, but my efforts are still noted. Even if the conversation doesn’t work the first time, keep at it. It may not get easier, but at least your kids will know they have safe place to share their thoughts.
- BE AWARE of your kids’ internet/cell phone use. DO NOT SNOOP. Establishing at the beginning what the rules are for using computers, cell phones, and other methods of communication are within your home (setting expectations) are key to understanding the world your child has created for herself/himself. Believe me, you may not have full access to whom /where your kids are spending their time, but Facebook/Twitter sure do.
- CARE. I once heard that 99% of parenting is showing up. Being physically present, or even a phone call (NOT TEXT. I SAID CALL. A voice connects you to each other far more than reading letters on a screen) to wish your child good luck with their next activity when you’re not able to attend. Let them know you’re taking them out afterward to celebrate (whether it goes well or not, especially when it does not). You have a child in your life. This is a precious gift. Be involved, or get involved.
I asked Pilot what the one piece of advice he would give parents/guardians and I’ll paraphrase it here:
Be consciously involved in your child’s education and life.
Going back to the question of, “What are schools doing to prevent a shooting from happening again?” There is a mindset becoming more prevalent in parent/teacher conferences: That the kids spend all of their time at school, so the teachers are responsible for their child’s behavior.
This is ass backwards, and here is why:
Children spend 6 hours a day in school. Let’s say 7 hours total to include commute time (assuming your child goes to a nearby school). I ask you, how many hours are there in a day? How good are your math skills? Mine suck, and I can tell you that 7 out of 24 hours is not a lot of time.
Children spend 1/3 of their day at school. Estimate the average 8 hours of sleep at their place of residence, and where is the rest? With their family or chosen extracurricular activity/jobs. Do you know where your child works? Who they work with? These are questions you should already know the answer to, don’t you think?
The point of all of this: Be there for your children. Be involved in your children’s lives. It takes effort, time, and patience, but it’s worth it. They won’t be children for long, and it’s a tough world. Not to sound corny, but who they are and how they interact with the world is every person’s responsibility, and they will be our future leaders. Their choices will shape our future.
What are your methods for staying involved with the children in your life?
How do you monitor your child’s use of technology and social media?
Have you talked to your children to keep an eye out for rash behavioral changes in their friends and peers?
Do your children know where to go at school/work/extracurricular activities to report concerning behavior safely?
For those in the education field, what are your tips for keeping your classrooms safe?