Along with the rest of the nation, I hugged my kids a little closer tonight. I’m devastated and confused and mystified that someone could be so calculated with the lives of children. Children with presents under their Christmas trees. Dress ups at the foot of their beds. Scooters in their driveways.
I’m also furious. As an educator, as a counselor, as a parent, I simply cannot believe there weren’t red flags, inconsistencies… signs. The individual responsible for ending the lives of 28 people and ruining the lives of 28 families could not have gone through his daily actions without making even one person wonder. One person must have been concerned. Just one.
Perhaps it will come out that this individual had always been troubled. Always angry. Everyone was worried and had tried to reach him to no avail. Weekly counseling. Family therapy. But perhaps the reports will show that he was elusive. Kept to himself. Didn’t connect with anyone. A history of depression or anger or mental illness.
Regardless of what this individual’s bio might show, I cannot believe that no one could break through the hatred. Break through the violence. Break through the sickness that would allow a young adult to commit the United States’ second deadliest shooting on record.
I worry that we are too complacent when it comes to the mental health of our children. We don’t give them enough credit for their strength of emotion and depth of feelings. We are quick to fall back on niceties like, ‘it’s a stage,’ or ‘he’s going through something,’ or ‘adolescents are so moody.’ I’d like to think we can do better than that.
If someone tells you to leave them alone, do you always listen? If you can’t make a connection with a troubled individual, would you look for someone who could? What about violence… at what point would you reach out? Violent drawings? Violent hobbies? Violent video games? Violent music? At what point would you begin a conversation?
I’m a counselor and a mom which makes me one of the more prying people on the planet. Kids can be defiant and temperamental and rude and aloof, but does that give us carte blanche to disengage? I’d like to think that if even one person had been pushy or nosy or interested, the Newtown shooter might have felt more connected to the idea of life vs. death.
So the next time your kid gives you the middle finger and slams the bedroom door in your face, don’t give up. Maybe you need to recruit a cool cousin or a beloved babysitter to get your intel, but don’t let up. What if it’s not your child? What then? Would you follow up with a school guidance counselor or principal? Would you contact a parent? Why not? To protect someone’s privacy? Fear of offense? Laziness?
If any one of us could rewind 24 hours, what steps would we take with the Newtown shooter? What wouldn’t we say, what wouldn’t we do? Nothing, right? I’d open every drawer, go through every bag in the closet, read every email, speak to every friend, every teacher… I’d yell, I’d listen, I’d cry, I’d hug.
Next time I wonder what to do when someone appears troubled or angry or removed, I will remember Newtown. My answer? What WOULDN’T I do.