Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summer Fun and Gun Violence? How Do We Handle That?

It's summer.

It's a time for kids to feel happy, go swimming, stay up later than usual, take trips with the family, play outside, maybe attend camp and generally de-stress.  For parents, even for those parents who have to work every day, it's a time for a slightly slower pace and less structured obligations.  Summer is the time most folks take a little time off for vacations and household repairs.  It's a time for families to be together and regroup before the fast pace of fall starts up again.

This is exactly what I had been doing.  Every summer, I take 3-4 weeks off so we can visit family in Virginia and go on family adventures.  The kids go to camp.  I'm able to read a book and relax.  The return home usually means home improvement projects, closet purges and a series of medical and dental appointments.

I was right in the middle of that dental appointment situation when a reporter from The News-Press called me.  She was writing an article about how parents and kids can enjoy summer when all of the awful news about bombings and shootings and terrorism was happening on a national and international front at an alarmingly regular pace.   I talked with her about what parents can do based on the child's developmental age... keep young kids away from the news....   have conversations about history/politics/safety/terrorism with high school kids, etc.  I also suggested that when bad things happen, we have to continue on in joy as a testimony of survival and facing fear head on.  We must live life to the fullest every day and be grateful for all of our many loved ones and blessings even though terrible things are happening.   You can read the full article  by Janine Zeitlin right here.

This morning, I woke up to my alarm clock and a notification from CNN on my phone.  I was bleary-eyed, but was able to read that "CNN" and "Fort Myers" were in the same sentence.

It had happened here in my town... a mass shooting within two miles of my home and office.  CNN reported that a mass shooting had occurred at a "safe party" for children ages 12 - 17 at a local nightclub.

Fort Myers is short on places for teenagers.  The club offered a summer themed beach party and music for the kids.   No alcohol was served and there was security.  As parents lined up outside to pick up the children after the night time party, the shooting happened.  Two teenagers were killed and seventeen were injured.  Details are still coming in and no arrests have been made as of right now. There are many more questions than answers.

My heart dropped down into my stomach as I peeked in on my still sleeping three daughters who are in the same age range as the victims.

The usual racial ranting and negativity was present on social media in response to the shooting. 

Blame was cast upon the night club and judgment was passed on the parents who allowed the kids to attend the gathering.  It's human  nature to default to blame and judgment.  We can't understand senseless violence, so we're looking for someone to accuse.  While the outrage and shock and grief is normal, the judgment and blame is not helpful or healthy.

The reality is that this kind of thing can happen anywhere.  Parents allow kids to attend gatherings today in 2016 just like parents allowed kids to attend gatherings back in 1982.  I clearly remember piling a bunch of friends in my car and driving off to dance and skate at the "midnight skate party" back in my hometown in Alabama.  But times were different then.

This situation is not the fault of the parents.  It's summer.  Events occur that are special and outside of the normal routine.  We expect that safety is a given.  We don't attend events expecting violence to be present.... just like those watching fireworks in Nice, France didn't expect violence.  We have to be very careful with the way we handle all of this.

Use your anger and frustration and grief to advocate, promote peace, address needed policy changes as you like.  Use your outrage to help motivate your voting.  Use your desperation and fear to talk to your children about the importance of safety and alertness.

More importantly, use your love to be present and enjoy summer with your children.

Hug your family members more.  Be present.  Be grateful.  
That's how we cope.

Stacey Brown is a 
Licensed Mental Health Counselor practicing in Fort Myers, Florida.  Sign up for her newsletter and follow on FacebookInstagram and Twitter so you can stay in touch.

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