The usual back-to-school frenzy of new backpacks, new clothes, and school supplies seems a bit frivolous this year given the recent rash of gun violence. Several mass shootings in a span of a few days has me a bit on edge, and although none of the recent shootings happened at schools, school shootings are not something our country is immune to. This year I find myself less focused on No. 2 pencils, crayons, and notebooks and more focused on what I can do and what our schools are doing to keep our children safe.
With our children spending an average of seven hours a day, often longer, on school grounds, it is imperative that parents know the school safety plan in the event of a mass shooting. California state law requires all schools to practice safety drills every six months, so unfortunately, active shooter drills are now just as common as fire and earthquake drills. Knowing this can help ease our minds. It also helps to talk with your children about those drills and how they feel about them. These are scary times — it can feel as though nowhere is safe anymore, so the more we can reassure our children of their safe surroundings, the better.
The beginning of the year can be full of new friends, which can also mean new playdates. It is now common to ask or be asked, “do you have guns in your house?” and if the answer is yes asking how and where they are stored. I will admit this took some getting used to. At first it felt strange and uncomfortable, but when someone questioned me about feeling that way, she compared it to my son’s nut allergy: You ask if there are nuts in the house as a matter of safety, so it’s the same about guns. It is too bad it has come to this, but according to gun control advocates, seven children die per day from gun violence. Most responsible gun owners don’t mind the question and actually welcome it. One mom offered to show me how the guns were kept and locked. I appreciated her openness, and in the end, was glad I asked.
There is no magic answer to how to keep our children safe in our 24/7 digital world; however, we can do a few simple things as parents — stay involved, ask questions, and educate ourselves. We can teach our children to avoid giving out or posting their address, phone number, or school information. We can teach them to never meet someone they only know online and to avoid location-sharing apps.
There is a lot we can personally do to keep our children safe online, and it starts on the first day of school. We all love those iconic first day of school pictures, but before posting any online make sure to avoid those with your house number or that show where your child goes to school. Also, avoid taking pictures with other people’s children in them. It is always important to ask the parent (and the children if they are older) if you have permission to take the picture and then to post it if that is your intention. We may think we are just posting for friends and family on Instagram, but pictures move fast and before we know it, they can end up on Facebook, Pinterest, or anywhere on the Internet. I don’t want to take the fun out of those first-day pictures, which are some of my favorites, but save some for yourself and think carefully about those you post.
Just as we have plans for an earthquake or fire, we should also talk to our children about what to do and where to meet in the event of a mass shooting. As much as I try to shield my older two children especially away from the news, this summer it has been hard. Whether on the radio, an Internet headline, or overhearing a conversation, they are aware of what is happening in our world. I want to be prepared and have a plan, that is my personality, but there is a big difference for me between an earthquake plan and a mass shooting evacuation plan. Living in the Bay Area, an earthquake seems inevitable, but I hope I never feel that way about a mass
My hope is next year when I write my back-to-school column that skyrocketing sales of bulletproof backpacks are no longer a headline. I hope our leaders and our country can figure out a better solution (and fast) to keep our children safe.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthful conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]