What Do We Tell the KIds?

We have a national tragedy...again. That's one thing you can always count on in this country because we have made a decision about what part we want guns to play in our lives.

I personally don't believe that the Second Amendment covers guns for everyone (that word "militia" just doesn't seem like a citizen-in-the-home kind of word) but this is what our Supreme Court has said and it's the law of the land. That said, I do believe that gun owners should be held very responsible for anything that happens using the gun in their home by anyone who lives in the home. I also don't believe anyone but a law enforcement officer needs a 30-bullet magazine.

What's fascinating is that the sale of Glocks has now gone up with rabid people fearing the government will cut off their guns. Funny how people worry about losing guns but not losing more people. From the AP:

One-day sales of handguns in Arizona jumped 60 percent on Jan. 10 compared with the corresponding Monday a year ago, the second-biggest increase of any state in the country, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data. From a year earlier, handgun sales ticked up yesterday 65 percent in Ohio, 16 percent in California, 38 percent in Illinois and 33 percent in New York, the FBI data show, and increased nationally about 5 percent.

But I'm not bringing this up to debate hyper-escalated rhetoric or talk radio or FOX news or anything of the sort. We all can figure out in the days and weeks to come what role, if any, outside forces had on this young man. But he did this and no one else. On the face of it, he seems mentally ill.

But one media person (and I've forgotten who) said, what about the kids?

What has Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson told their students and parents? How do you explain to kids that your friend on the student council went to Safeway and ended up dead? (It looks like the principal wrote a letter talking about coming together as a community and details of the funeral but oddly, nothing about what parents might tell their children. The school district has no tips either but is protecting the staff and children at the elementary by refusing media access to anyone.)

How do we explain mental illness to our children without scaring them but also to protect them? If we say "he's crazy", then any odd or off-beat behavior might make a child think someone was crazy. But we also need to tell our children to be watchful and get away from anyone who makes them feel scared.

It's interesting because I don't know many people who own handguns. (I know a fair amount of hunters.) I wonder if you live in a state or community where guns are commonplace (you can walk around in Arizona openly wearing a gun), do kids worry that one of those people could be crazy?

Do we tell our kids it couldn't happen here?

I remember telling my sons, after the Virginia Tech shootings, what I thought they might do to protect themselves if someone came into their class with a gun. I also remember apologizing to them because I never, ever in my childhood worried about being shot. No one brought guns to school, fights were mano a mano and if someone said they were going to kill you, you didn't believe them.

What do we teach our children about human behavior and how to read people without putting fear into their lives? (I will recommend Protecting the Gift by noted security expert, Gavin de Becker.)

I ask all these questions because I don't know but I am ashamed that as Americans this is a conversation we have nearly every 6 months.

I grew up on the border of Arizona in the district that Representative Giffords represents. The Sheriff in Pima County is right; the rhetoric is way racheted up. It was not this way when I was growing up (and remember, this is the home of the ultimate conservative, Barry Goldwater, who famously said, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!")

This is not the Arizona that I know and love.


The Arizona shooting may be a little about politics and a little more about gun control, but it's a LOT about untreated mental illness.

Any of our kids could turn out to be schizophrenic. It's somewhat hereditary, but not entirely. One in 100 people are schizophrenic. The disease typically starts between the ages of 15 and 30. In high school, or college or just after.

If your kid comes down with schizophrenia, he or she is likely have a very hard time accessing medical care. About 40% of schizophrenics do not believe they are sick, and paranoia is a symptom of the disease -- so they can be quite adverse to getting treatment.

If your kid gets schizophrenia, and you take him to the emergency room, it is likely that you will be turned away if he or she is uncooperative.

At that point, you must simply sit by and watch your child deteriorate. There may be altercations with the law, and it is quite likely that your child will spend time in jail. Your friends and neighbors are no help (not like if your child had cancer or an injury) -- they believe your kid has a behavioral problem, or he is lazy, or maybe you did a terrible job parenting him. Because you lack medical support and social support, you can start to believe these things too.

Long story short -- schizophrenia is a major problem in a family. It is a cruel disease that strikes just when a child could start college or become independent. It is made much more cruel by the fact that the family is cut off from medical care and social support.

Advocacy around major mental illness is very neglected among parent activists. But look around you -- who is affected? You probably know someone. (My brother-in-law was).

At least call your Legislator and ask them to please not cut what little help there is for those with major mental illness.

If you or someone you know is affected, contact the National Alliance for Mental Illness, Greater Seattle. They have excellent resources and support groups that really can help.

Sure, control guns, but let's get these kids access to medicine and treatment. Treatment for schizophrenia really does work. NO MORE Arizonas or Virginia Techs or Skagit Valley or Jewish Federations. And prayers for the family of Jared Loughner.
ConcernedTeacher said…
I, too, grew up in Arizona, and left when it became unrecognizable to me and I no longer felt welcome in my own state. Much of the intolerance, hatred, and paranoia seemed to come from those moving into Arizona rather than those who had lived there for ages, though I won't say all native Arizonans are above reproach. Still, the idiocy in the legislature was usually kept in check by a Democratic governor vs a Republican legislature and vice versa.

Then the true Republican incompetents began to be elected to the legislature in mass - people like Lisa Graham Keegan and Tom Horne as state superintendent of schools - neither of whom had a f*$#(@ clue about education, nor did they care to (in fact the former used the AZ dept of Ed as her personal cash machine - funding her pet projects like lots of charters in which she invested) and things began to go downhill fast.

It became OK for extremist GOP legislators like Russell Pearce to associate with NeoNazis like JT Ready and pose for "militia men" photos with assault rifles while wearing an American flag as a shirt. It was even OK for JT Ready, NeoNazi extraordinaire, to run for the legislature! It was OK to cut funding to social programs, health care, and education because REAL Arizonans didn't need those things - just the illegals used those programs - and they needed to be cut off so they'd go home. It was OK to gut any environmental protections in the state despite the fact the tourism remains among the top sources of income for the state (how about that proposed uranium mine at the Grand Canyon that would already be up and running were it not for the EPA and the feds).
It was important to let the rich people and businesses have tax credits go towards private and religious schools - oh those freedoms! It was important to allow people with guns to go into stores and bars, because they might need to shoot someone while they're in Costco or in a bar. It was important to take away any impediments towards gun ownership - even if those impediments like a waiting period or a thorough background check, or even a restriction on assault weapons - might save a life (or 6), because not infringing on someone's right to bear arms is much more important than a human life. Ironically, even in the Wild West Tombstone of yore they had weapons restrictions, and patrons were most certainly NOT allowed to take guns into bars.

The priorities in AZ are so completely out of whack these days that it is no wonder this happened there. Guns before people, rich before poor, the healthy before the unhealthy, the loud bullies taking advantage of the vulnerable populations.

The unfortunate thing is that I had a great life and education growing up in Arizona; great public elementary school with tons of amenities (art room w/ art specialist! PE every day! computer lab! science lab!), good solid high school experience without fears of being shot at school, and a wonderful undergrad institution at a time when in-state tuition rates were around $800 per semester for a full load (this would be mid-later 90's). Kids in present-day Arizona will never experience what I had growing up there, and that makes me very sad indeed.

Here is what the superintendent of Tucson schools sent out.
SE Mom said…
As a mental health professional, I would like to add to Isabel's post that violent behavior is not a symptom of schizophrenia. Most violent behavior by schizophrenics is self inflicted and they are more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators.

I would whole-heartedly agree that advocacy for mental health treatment is sorely lacking in most communities along with funding
for treatment. Community mental health funding in King County has taken a hit this year for sure with layoffs amd elimination of good treatment programs serving those with serious mental illness. I think most folks had no idea what would happen when the soda and candy tax was replealed as a result of the November election.
smith said…
Really useful blog.Good work keeping this updated!Thanks a lot! Special Education
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