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First published on LinkedIn

The leading cause of death in 15-24 year olds is accidents, followed by homicide at number two, and suicide at number three. Together, those three causes make up 74% of all deaths in the age group, and they are 100% preventable. We need ACTION, and everyone is looking to State and Federal lawmakers to make something happen. In the face of tragedy, we look to “leadership” for solutions. We are in the habit of looking ‘out there’ for solutions. Half the population of writers and pundits are demanding gun control, while the other half are digging in their heels against it. People are calling for metal detectors, armed guards, para-military police forces, and SWAT-trained teachers. It is sad. Many people want more prayer in schools, while others want to blame the parents of these attackers. Many want crackdowns on bullying while also calling for corporal punishment. It is obvious we don’t understand the problem, and we are grasping blindly for solutions. As for me, I can only take action on the things within my own control. Stephen Covey illustrated it perfectly with his circles of influence and concern. When we concern ourselves with things outside of our control, our actions have no influence, and we feel helpless. When we focus our concern within our circle of influence, our actions become very effective. So where is it that we have influence, and can focus our concern in thisĀ age of school violence?

Our number one asset to fight this growing trend of violence in schools is our own kids. No matter where else we look for people to take action, they will first have to collect data and intelligence, study how it applies, formulate an action plan, and then figure out how to apply that plan back in the school. Our children are in the schools every day. They are the data. They have the intelligence. They know how it applies, and they are the ones who need to take the action. So the question becomes, how do we prepare our children to not only survive, but also combat this growing trend of violence in schools? I’ve prepared a list of things we can do as parents to best prepare our own children.

First, have the conversations. No matter how young our children are, we have to talk to them about potential violence that could impact them. This isn’t just school shootings, this is also abuse at the hands of older kids, teachers, coaches, friends, and family members. It isn’t ‘stranger danger‘ that should most concern us, it is familiar danger. Do you have a family password? If a teacher, neighbor, or extended family member were to take your kids out of school early one day, how do the kids know if it is legitimate or not? How are they supposed to react to it? If you do have a password, and the person does not possess it, how are the kids trained to handle that situation from an authority figure?

Do they know what is appropriate to joke about in person or on social media compared to what could get them into trouble? Would they recognize a potential threat? Do they know what to do if a friend or classmate makes inappropriate jokes or posts to social media? Do they understand and recognize social pressure and have subtle ways to resist it or remove themselves from situations where it occurs? Are they comfortable being an ‘anti-bully’ who pushes back against aggressive behavior and social pressure to pick on the weak? Do they recognize a classmate in need of acceptance or friendship? Are they comfortable talking to you about situations that make them uncomfortable?

As a parent, do you ask about their day? Do you listen to the answers? Do you know the names of their friends? Teachers? Coaches? Enemies? Do you know the cliques and class hierarchy they have to deal with? When is the last time you met their teachers face to face? Do your children know it is ok to be sad sometimes? That bad days happen, and it is normal to get frustrated or disappointed? Do you allow them to fail without always intervening? Do they know that you love and respect them, and that you expect them to fail as much as they succeed and it takes both to grow into a healthy, capable, responsible, successful adult?

Second, show them the Run. Hide. Fight. video and discuss specific examples of how to implement the lessons. Even if they are in the first grade, don’t frighten them, but show them. Let them know that danger is real sometimes, and it is important to be prepared. It is important to recognize a serious situation and listen to their teachers. It is important to not panic, and that having a plan ahead of time will give them the confidence to take action hand survive. Discuss scenarios such as having a sibling in another classroom. Have a rendezvous point away from their school. Memorize phone numbers instead of counting on the cell phone to work. Ask them to describe from their point of view in the setting of their own school. Let them ramble on. Don’t veto any of their ideas, just provide guidance on what might or might not work for them.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Having a plan in place provides confidence, quicker reaction time, and most importantly serves as a deterrent. Studies show something as simple as direct eye contact can thwart a robbery or attack. It is the reason businesses started asking their employees to look up and greet every customer. If our kids are policing their own school, befriending the downtrodden, calling out the bullies, and communicating efficiently with administrators and parents, then the situation is vastly improved.

Lastly, teach them respect for life and empathy for each other. Don’t squash the bugs, carry them outside. Explore other points of view. Is that bug trying to feed a family of its own? Is the driver who cut you off, late for their daughter’s performance? Display empathy, so they can mimic you. Have a pet, and take good care of it. Don’t point toy guns at one another. Don’t laugh and clap when a waiter drops a tray, but offer a helping hand. Speak confidently when spoken to. Hold doors open (just not the secure doors at the school!). Smile at old people, and give hugs generously. Drop off a cheeseburger with the homeless guy. Help younger siblings with their homework. Walk the dog. Let them take their old coat to Goodwill, and share their lunch with someone how forgot one. Let them find creative ways to engage in the human drama and feel empowered in improving someone’s condition even if just for a moment. Make sure they know that it actually matters. Life is precious, or at least it should be.

In the end, we cannot control the actions of others, but we can prepare ourselves and our children to be kind, while also being confident, strong, and proactive. We can give them skills to recognize and react to potential threats before irreversible damage occurs. We can take action where we still have influence, and we can hold each other accountable to do the same. Leadership starts with us. It isn’t in Tallahassee or Washington, DC. Leadership happens at home, on the car ride to school, and walking down the hallway between classes. Let’s teach our kids to be good leaders by being good leaders ourselves.

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