Recently, on a cloudless 85-degree day, my husband and I were with a group of friends and their kids sitting around a friend’s pool in our home city of Jacksonville, Florida. It had been a while since we had all been together, and it was so fun hearing everyone’s accomplishments (“I ran my first race since having Charlie!”), fun family outings (“Danny loved being third row for Disney on Ice”), and day-to-day updates (“Noah just changed classrooms at daycare last week”). Amidst all these celebrations, I noticed that with each update, there was also a brief and casual reference to the potential for gun violence that impacted each of my friends in different ways:
“I was so proud of myself to have run the Gate River Run this year - but those bridges are the WORST! It was also the first time postpartum I’ve been in a crowd like that, and my first thought at the starting line was - ‘Dang this is packed, I hope no one starts shooting’!”
“Danny loved being so close to the characters - although he was disappointed there was no Rex from Toy Story! While it was fun to be in the third row, I was nervous the whole time realizing how far away we were from the exits if there was a shooting. Not worth those seats.”
“Noah likes his new teacher a lot and one of his best friends is in the new classroom with him. I like the new classroom too since it’s farther back in the hallway in case there was ever an active shooter.”
Being in the School Safety field, we talk to schools - to teachers, admin, and parents - about these topics every day. But until that moment, I don’t think I quite realized how many of my friends, in all different professions, all with kids not yet in the K-12 system, are also thinking about it EVERY DAY. It made me that much more sad. And mad. And concerned about what would happen as our kids continued to get older - listening to us have these conversations, having these conversations themselves. Is there a way to protect my own children from thinking about this every day, too?
Obviously, there are political and systemic changes that could help. I think EVERYONE agrees with that, but people differ greatly on what should be done. For the purposes of this reflection – as a commentary on how we as parents and community members can support children when it comes to safety – I’ll keep the focus on what’s within our direct control. Here are three things I came up with as focal points for myself as a parent, and as a consumer of information:
Recognize that awareness is powerful.I think it’s important to name that there isn’t anything inherently bad about being aware of your surroundings. In fact, it’s often an asset. And I think it’s normal, smart, and right, that as we get older and have kids, we often start to take stock of emergency exits, safety procedures, etc. in all situations. Thinking about these things is not bad, as long as they’re done without a lot of anxiety and fear attached to them (since that anxiety is easily felt by others around us, especially children).
Ask the questions you need to ask to feel comfortable. Part of the problem is, that we don’t often know the safety procedures in place in different places and situations and are left trying to determine them for ourselves. It’s understandable that if the race sponsor, or arena, or your child’s daycare doesn’t proactively communicate their safety plans, it may seem like they don’t have any. So let’s ask them! If enough people ask, maybe they will realize they should just be proactive with this info so they can stop answering everyone’s questions about it.
Keep relative risk in mind. Like many others, when I personally think about risk and safety, I ask myself one important question: What’s the likelihood of something bad happening? For example, I know that I’m statistically much more likely to be hurt in a car accident on the way to the beach than be bitten by a shark when I’m in the water at the beach on any given Saturday. Does that fully alleviate my fear of being bitten by a shark? No. But does it help my rational brain overcome the fear and get me into the ocean? Sure, most of the time. Similarly, when I consider buying tickets to a concert or a crowded event, I think about the potential for violence. And I also think about how many other events have occurred in the past few days/weeks/months without incident. I know that fixating on the emotional side of risk is less productive than weighing the options rationally. It doesn’t necessarily eliminate all my anxiety, but it helps me think more clearly to have these as anchors.
If nothing else, this conversation with my friends - my reflections have once again reminded me that we have a lot of work to do. So that one day, my adult kids can sit around a pool with their friends, and have a conversation that stops after “my kid got to see Cinderella on Ice!”. I look forward to that day, and I’ll continue doing everything in my power – as a parent and a safety ambassador – to get there.