Violence and Mental Health
I grew up on the East Coast of Florida. My mom has lived in the same house my whole life, down the road from an elementary and a middle school, public housing next to the schools, grocery stores and a shopping plaza on the other side. Trailor Park up the road.
Basic, lower middle-class neighborhoods.
From the time I was about 8 years old, my mom had to work two jobs, so I’d be alone a lot.
There are rules to being alone as a kid, right? If you answer the phone, you say that mom is the shower. Never tell people you’re alone. Don’t answer the front door. Keep the doors locked. Keep the front shades drawn so no one can see into the house. In case of hurricane, tornado, or gunfire, lay down in the hallway. You’re far away from windows and projectiles have to travel through the outer wall and an inner wall before it gets to you.
But school? School was safe. There were bullies maybe, and kids who were mean, and the gang bangers who would jump you if you walked through the park alone after school or at night. There were fights after school. “Meet me at the park after school, I’m gonna kick your …” Your house might get shot at by random kids trying to be tough. It was the 80s – You might get hurt at school, but you wouldn’t get dead – generally speaking.
Kids these days don’t have that same luxury.
There was a boy in elementary school, generally agreed by all the girls to be the cutest boy in school. He was a sports whiz, great at baseball. When I was 10, and he was just 14, he got into a fight with another kid at the park up the street from my house. The older boy hit him over the head with an aluminum baseball hat, and the boy died. I had been to funerals before, people in my family had died and we weren’t sheltered from death. But this kid was a KID. And I knew him.
That really messed me up. At the time, I didn’t realize how much, but in hindsight… yea. Random gunshots and kids getting jumped aside, this was the first time that a kid! That I knew! Had died.
It was too close to home.
Pain that should never be felt…
I cannot fathom the pain and suffering of the parents who lost their children in the mindless tragedies of school shootings. As a child, I was reckless and careless, and I did things that certainly gave my mom grey hairs. But school was safe.
I remember Columbine, and how tragic it was, and how shocked we all were. I was glad I had graduated HS by that point.
And how many since then? So many. I’m not going to name them all here, because looking them up is going to make me cry, because there are just so many. Literally every day that I am writing and editing just this blog post, there’s more shootings. I can’t keep up.
So. Much. Death.
Part of me wants to home school my kids – but I know that wouldn’t be best for them. They are social, and gifted, and love school – I can’t take that away from them, no matter how scary it is for me.
Everybody Thinks They’re a Cowboy
In 2008, we had gone to see family over Christmas weekend, from Kendall to Miami Lakes to Pembroke Pines we visited, and it was great. We headed back home, late in the evening, hitting the alley around 10-something on Sunday night. My husband had brought his handguns, his Christmas presents, to show to his cousin.
Alligator Alley on a Sunday night is not a busy road. As soon as we passed the toll plaza, a car flies up behind us. Riding our tail. Swooping up next to us, yelling out the window, cutting in front of us (there’s no other cars on the road). Break checking us. Husband is mad, yelling at the other guy, telling me to get the guns. I’m writing down the tag, make and model of the car – I get the gun case, but then I put it back behind the seat – I don’t know why. Just before Snake Road (as we were going to get off to get gas) dude makes to side swipe us and starts shooting at us. I call the cops, they show up, eventually he’s arrested…
Everyone I shared that story with, in the aftermath, made some sort of commentary that I was stupid for putting the guns away, we should have shot dude, they certainly would have shot dude, I should have shot dude, he’d have deserved it, etc.
I say, you have no idea what you would have done unless you’ve been in that situation. Everyone can talk a big game when they aren’t in it. I’m not opposed to protecting myself, but I have no desire for a “free kill”.
I’m not anti-gun. I like shooting guns. I have a conceal/carry license. I have guns (well, my husband owns guns, so by proxy I have guns). A gun is a tool. It does a job. It fires a projectile, and that projectile punches holes in things.
A gun in the hand of a person with untreated mental health issues is more than a just a weapon – it’s a weapon of mass destruction. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the parents and families in Texas right now have had their whole lives destroyed, so I think it’s accurate.
What Does Politics Have to do With Kids Lives?
I won’t get on a rant about gun control, because honestly, I am not sure that that is the answer. I’m pretty sure controlling who gets guns is only a small part of this equation. When I was a kid, the news would rant about “gang bangers and gun violence” and “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns!”
Yet… Here we are. The good guys with guns didn’t go into that school and save the children and teachers in Uvalde. They fought with and prevented the parents’ and other good guys from going into that school and saving the children and teachers. No one saved people in malls, or grocery stores. Bad guys everywhere are shooting people… at the time of this sentence being written, I think there’s been a mass killing every day this past week.
Guns are not even close to outlawed, they’re barely regulated. And the good guys with guns aren’t saving our children from being murdered as they learn. Our babies have to have “active shooter drills” to prepare for the day that someone comes barging into their learning space to get vengeance for… perceived slights, being made fun of, a girl who rejected him, or just because he wanted to kill some people.
How is this Ok?
Maybe it’s a case of confirmation bias, but I feel like this is a mental health issue more than it’s a guns and ammo issue.
When people were dying from car accidents at much higher rates than they were now-a-days, laws were implemented to try to ensure that people wore their seatbelts. There were detractors, of course. The freedom-screamers who swear that any suggestion of safety is a violation of their rights. Just as there are detractors to any conversation about mental health and gun control – it’s not (rather it shouldn’t be) a partisan issue.
Children, even children who are sheltered from hearing the news, know that the world is not safe. They discuss school shootings at school. An insult that is tossed around to the outcasts is that “they’re the next school shooter” – which I fear is going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy in many places.
Our kids are struggling – this is their normal. Yes, Covid has had a huge impact on kids and teens mental health, but that’s a whole other blog post. Fear over being murdered in school isn’t something that our kids should be dealing with – but they do. Daily.
I have no proper ending for this blog. I have no advice to offer. My kids with be in 3rd and 6th grade this coming school year, and every time I get an email about a school lock down, it’s a gut punch.
What role, do I, as a parent, play in this? Since a good bunch of these teen murderers seem to be boys whose advances were rejected by a girl, or a kid that was made fun of and picked on, I try to start there. I do my best to teach my boys about consent, girls can date whom they want. No one owes you attention or affection. If your friends are saying comments or joking about hurting someone, be the stand-up guy who tells them that they’re messed up for those comments. Be good, upstanding, honorable young men. Have integrity – do the right thing even when no one is watching. Respect people’s boundaries, enforce your own boundaries. (Yes, this conversation is happening now. The “consent” conversation started when they were toddlers – body boundaries are a thing!)
I hope that my boys will grow up to be strong, honorable, kind men.
I hope that my boys get to grow up.
It’s never too early to start therapy if you see red flag behaviors in your child, nieces, nephews, friend’s kids, adults near you, etc. If you see behaviors that are worrisome, or the school advises you that your child is engaging in some behaviors that are questionable, please don’t be afraid to seek mental health interventions. Inform the police if you see behavior that worries you. We have moved beyond the “serial killer trifecta” of harming animals, fire setting, and wetting the bed. The concern in our world today is less the serial killers of the 70s – it’s the angry person who didn’t have mental health help, and decided the best course of action was to murder as many people as they could.
Whether you seek help here at TTT or elsewhere, just seek help.
Jennifer Albert, LMHC
Hello! My name is Jennifer Albert and I am a licensed mental health counselor. I work with teenagers and adults, those with addictions, first responders, and those with depression, anxiety, impulsivity, and other mental health disorders in order to help them process historical trauma and lead them on the road to self discovery and peaceful living.