Surviving a School Shooting
Helping your children survive in a school shooting.
By Dr. Cheryl Andaya
Another School Shooting
Truth be told, I began writing this a while ago with the Florida school shooting and then put it aside to work on some other stuff. Well, here we are again, the list of school shootings just keeps increasing and now we are training our children on steps to take if there is a shooter in the school.
Mental Health versus Gun Control
While politicians argue about whether gun control or mental illness is to blame, as a parent, it freaking frustrates me that more is not being done! What I will say about this debate is that simply blaming mental illness further increases the stigmatization of mental health and makes it less likely for others to come forward when they are faced with psychological challenges. I do think getting help for mental illness is important, but we need to look at the fact that there are also those with mental illness who DO NOT go on killing sprees. I can go on and on about this topic but that’s not my driving point at the moment. I am trying to find a voice to discuss keeping my keiki safe at school.
I am ashamed to say that the most recent mass shooting did not shock me as much as Columbine. In psychology, we call it “desensitization.” It’s when something that initially resulted in a physiological response decreases the response over time and there is less of a reaction due to repeated exposure and the individual becomes used to it. Although saddened and angry, I knew this traumatic event would spur another flurry of “thoughts and prayers” and the like from politicians and others who will continue to go about their day as society is slowly becoming desensitized to this madness.
Talking to My Children
Meanwhile, I am making sure I take the time to talk to my children about scenarios and precautions they would take in the event of a school shooting. How the heck do I start this conversation with a 7-year-old? Where do I even begin? I mean seriously! I need to talk to my children about what they need to do if they hear gunshots in the school. We send them to school, trusting they will be safe, and yet, there have been 172 fatalities in school shootings between 1982 to 2018 (Follman, Aronsen, & Pan, 2018). Just after Parkland, there’s been 5 fatal school shooting (Shapiro, 2018). Is this really our reality now?!
Fire drill, tsunami drill, false missile alarm, and school shooting drill. Schools are starting to incorporate these drills into school routines; a sad but necessary reality. Here are the talking points I gave my keiki:
- Prevention is key. See something, say something. In my work environment this has become a necessary saying with workplace violence and disgruntled employees. Helping my keiki identify possible warning signs can make all the difference. This is not to say that individuals exhibiting these signs will end up on the news as a mass shooter; however, these signs can help identify a child in need of help and attention.
- Guns, guns and more guns! Obsession with violence or guns, hoards guns, frequently about guns, AND threatens to shoot others, especially when there is a sense of frustration and anger. Going back to the idea of desensitization, someone who keeps talking in such a violent manner about using guns and shooting others soon begins to blur the lines between reality and fantasy. This could be signs for concern and may need to be addressed before it escalates to where the individual hurts others or themselves. Something that my children’s school discussed is what to do if they ever see a gun: don’t touch it and tell an adult.
- Threats: Person has made threats verbally or on social media sites. Schools have begun to take these threats very seriously. I remember one of my keiki telling me about a classmate who told another peer that she should kill herself. It was in the 2nd grade! Although it may have been said in impulsively or out of jest, it could signal another underlying concern and should be explored further. Fortunately, the students overhearing this interaction told the teacher and it was addressed with the students and parents. Other schools have made reports to behavioral health when a student made threats about shooting in school, having been inspired by recent events.
- Bullying – feeling the need for revenge and injustice: An individual who is victimized may feel like violence is their only way to salvation.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Being married to a fireman, each time we entered a new building, even when we went to the hospital for the birth of our child, the first thing he would look for if we were staying the night were the exits. He would walk down the hall and find where all the exits were. He then would look to see if they had sprinklers, exit signs, and extinguishers around. Hazards of his job, he was always thinking about these measures. We always teach our keiki to be aware of their surroundings. To drive the message home, often tie it to their sports: they always need to be aware to react effectively. We taught them to look around and find the exits, and now, we tie that with not only fire escape, but also for use in case of shooting. Find the exits and escape if you can. Avoid hallways and make sure your exit is away from the shooter.
- Escape – RUN. Always try to get away if possible! If you are in the line of sight of the gunman, run in a zigzag manner(Hauser, 2018). My son once watched an episode of Mythbusters where they were exploring the truth behind the myth of running zigzag to escape a crocodile. He was 5 or 6 at the time. It was during a flag football game where I discovered how much he internalized the message when he scored a touchdown as he evaded the defense with his zigzag running. It was adorable to see the defenders zigzagging behind him in his wake. Similarly, running zigzag with a shooter could be a way to evade getting shot. A New York Times article (Hauser, 2018) also recommends yelling “gun” or “gunman” to alert others and to avoid pulling the fire alarm as others may think it’s just a drill. The Parkland gunman actually pulled the fire alarm (Hauser, 2018), which contributed to the chaos. Mass shooters are usually trying to increase the number of victims so avoid areas with lots of people if possible.
- If you are unable to escape, find a place to hide where you can also block access. Barricade or lock the door, find a hiding spot and stay quiet.
Sometimes, I’ll even play a game while we sit, waiting. I ask the boys “what would you do if…” where throw out scenarios for them to problem solve. For example, I say, “what would you do if there was a fire during the movie?” They then identify where the nearest exits are from their seats and how they would get there.
Do you have ideas or experiences regarding this topic, PLEASE share below. I would love to hear from you.
Follman, M., Aronsen, G., & Pan, D. (2018, May 18). US Mass Shootings, 1982-2018: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation. Retrieved from motherjones.com: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data/
Hanna, J., Andone, D., Allen, K., & Almasy, S. (2018, May 19). Alleged shooter at Texas high school spared people he liked, court document says. Retrieved from CNN.com: https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/18/us/texas-school-shooting/index.html
Hauser, C. (2018, February 16). The New York Times. Retrieved from nytimes.com: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/us/survive-active-shooter.html
Keneally, M. (2018, May 19). All of these fatal shootings have happened since Parkland. Retrieved from abcnews.go.com: https://abcnews.go.com/News/list-fatal-school-shootings-parkland/story?id=55262193
Shapiro, E. (2018, February 22). Dissecting the distinctive profile of school shooters: ‘There’s always a trail of what they’re about to do’. Retrieved from abcnews.go.com: https://abcnews.go.com/US/dissecting-distinctive-profile-school-shooters-trail/story?id=53197511
US Mass Shootings, 1982-2018: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation . (1982-2018). Retrieved from motherjones.com: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data/
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I’m a mother and a Clinical Psychologist who works with children and their families as well as individuals reaching for their goals. Born and raised in Hawaii, I embrace diversity and help individuals find their strengths.