California suburb

It’s A Scary World

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Brad, the “dad”

I had just dropped the Elf at the middle school when I heard a familiar name on the radio. It was the top-of-the-hour headlines: a 13-year-old had been shot and killed over a dispute involving a pick-up basketball game. Shot twice, no less. By a fellow student.

And it happened at my old middle school. Back when it was still called “junior high,” and less than a hundred yards from the house I lived in at the time. I suddenly, chillingly, realized that I had been playing pick-up basketball (badly) on that same outdoor, asphalt court, at the same time of day, exactly forty years ago. Before they put up the security fence all around the campus. Before the fire that burned most of the original building to the ground. Before…well, apparently before everything changed.

Yes, I know it was a long time ago, but this wasn’t some impoverished gang-infested, inner-city school on the Bad Side of Town. This was the same moderately overcrowded, moderately well-run school in the same middle-class, highly diverse, Southern California suburb it had been in 1968, so…what the hell has happened? What kind of world has grown up around us in the last forty years? What was I dropping my daughter into? It wasn’t just ironic that I had just deposited my own kid at her own eight grade mere moments before; it was downright terrifying.

California suburb

I’m probably worrying too much. I don’t even live in that neighborhood, or that town, or even that county, anymore. And I know we hear stories like this every few days, and click our tongues and shake our heads. I know the only thing that makes this one different for me is that it’s my school, in my ancient and distant home town. But still…is it worse ‘out there’ than it was forty years ago? Or am I just being paranoid and overprotective? Again?

Mary, the “mom”

I don’t think it’s paranoid or overprotective to worry, because there is plenty to worry about, but it doesn’t accomplish anything. All we can do is teach our kids to be good and be careful and then we just have to hope they’re not in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When I say ‘all we can do is teach them to be good and careful’, I don’t mean the standard “be good parents and it will all work out”. I think we need to make sure our children are tolerant of others and, to quote the ‘Golden Rule’, “treat others as they would like to be treated”. I’ve been trying to get my 9-year-old to see a little social squabble from the other girl’s perspective. Maybe it’s a lot of these little teachable moments that add up to them having empathy for others. It seems as though much of the senseless violence in schools today is perpetrated by kids who have been bullied or excluded. Sometimes all it takes is one kid standing up for the outcast to make that kid’s life more tolerable. Of course, if I’m being honest, I have to admit that standing up for the outcast against a popular crowd could be downright dangerous in and of itself. But, if enough kids have empathy for others, maybe some of this senseless violence will stop.

However, since it won’t all stop, I also think we need to try to educate our children to be “street smart” and the ‘street’ might be a city street or it might be the playground at school, but they need to know to look out for trouble and avoid it. That can be a little hard to accomplish in suburbia, but I think we’ve got to try.

All that said, the news I heard on my drive home today included a report of a group of third graders plotting to attack their teacher. My youngest is a third grader – it’s beyond my comprehension that 9-year-olds would do such a thing. It makes you wonder what they’ll be doing when they’re in middle school. I guess I’m worried, even if it doesn’t accomplish anything.

California suburb

Rach, the “teen”

Every year, without fail, there is a bomb threat at my high school in the suburbs. Every student here looks forward to “bomb threat day” – we love it. They take us out of classes and let us hang out on the fields across from the school. It’s a great day spent in the sun while bomb-sniffing dogs search the entire building and grounds.

In fact, we have lockdowns (where we aren’t allowed to leave our classrooms for an hour while the dogs sniff the building, or someone gets arrested) more than we have fire drills or student assemblies.

Violence is part of our country, our culture, our schools, and our media. And that’s what really so scary to me. That society lets all this violence filter through into our thoughts and the thoughts of our children.

Of course, education is the best way to protect people from violence. Teaching them that it is not OK to harm someone with actions or with words is important. And, sadly, it’s our only option right now.

So, mom and dad, you are dropping your kids into scary violence and the hate-obsessed world. And I’m sorry.

I don’t want to live in a world where kids shoot other kids, or where students plan kidnappings of their teachers. But I don’t have a choice. It’s really scary for us, knowing that there could be shooting at our high school or college campus, or that the draft would come back and we’d all be shipped off to war.

We want you to worry for us because then it doesn’t seem so irrational when we are afraid of what’s next.

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