I remember where I was, and what I was doing, when I heard about the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and when I learned of the Columbine shootings in 1999. When I first heard about the events of last Friday in Connecticut, I was clearly reminded of how I felt 49 and 13 years ago. Disbelief, disorientation, and shock are hard to achieve in our world of hyper media and digitally enhanced imagery. That said, Friday left most of us speechless.
Once you become a parent, your relationship to all children changes, and it becomes easy to feel deeply connected to other parents. Parenting is hard. Not only does it require a huge investment of time, energy, and resources, it also includes a cascading sequence of vulnerability. The typical bumps and bruises (physical and emotional) of growing up are first felt by your child and then by you. It is easy to inadvertently amplify this process, and it takes perspective gained through experience (often with a second, third or fourth child) to remain balanced and calm in the face of challenging circumstances.
I remember one fabulous parent joking that it was emotionally difficult parenting her first two, but became much easier with her third child as she realized it was "us against them." Then a tragedy happens and all parents shudder, feel a renewed sense of vulnerability, and simply want to hug and protect their kids. So what do we do?
We know that there is no single answer to this question, but it seems that a few themes emerge. First, limit exposure to media and do not let your fears add to whatever uncertainties your child may (or may not) be experiencing. Just as my friend and bestselling author Michael Thompson recommends to not "interview for pain," it is important to not "interview for fear." Ask open-ended questions, spend time together, be observant, and continue to reassure your children -- and yourself -- that schools are safe and supportive places.
I also believe that this is an opportunity to talk with your children about what you do when a question or event has no answer or explanation. Some violence is incomprehensible. Bad things do happen to good people. This is where faith, helping others, and the importance of community provide a path, if not an answer. Mental illness, the norming of violence in media and video games, and the powerful role of alcohol and drug abuse in bad decision making are topics that might also come up. Tragic events can be a cautionary tale, but more often they open a door to conversations that empower young people to come to their own conclusions.
We are thankful for the ongoing support of local authorities to help ensure our children’s safety. Like you, I will be comforted by their enhanced presence on our campus.
At Kent Denver, most students are focused on mid-year exams, drama rehearsals, athletic contests, and the like. Most students are looking forward to some time to rest and renew. All of us will welcome the opportunity to better appreciate all that we have to be thankful for and will keep in mind those who are less fortunate or suffering.
My very best to you and your family for the holidays,