Watching the news coverage of the shooting at Madison Junior Senior High School I am struck by the re-occurrence of similar themes and images—parents racing to the school to find and hug their children, students and teachers in disbelief that a shooting has happened and a child pulled the trigger. And I can’t help but wonder why this continues to happen? What has caused some of our children to take such violent and irreversible actions? Do they not understand the possible consequences of their behavior? Do they not care?
I am a firm believer that children’s actions are feelings to be understood. Meaning in order to understand a child’s behavior it is helpful to look at the feelings that triggered the action. A child who strikes out at another child may be feeling sad, frustrated or rejected. By helping the child express and cope with these feelings, the actions of aggression will lessen. I also believe that children use behaviors that work for them. So that if a temper tantrum results in a child getting a piece of candy, the child will continue to use temper tantrums to get more candy.
These beliefs have always helped me better understand children’s actions—yet I have to admit I have a hard time wrapping my head around the feelings that lead to a child shooting another child. And an even harder time comprehending how such an act of violence can be perceived as a solution. And isn’t this what we all do—we seek to understand how and why these tragic events occur? We believe, if we understand the cause, we can prevent these tragedies from occurring in the future. Yet we seldom get an answer that makes sense which results in us looking for who or what to blame.
In my previous work as a family therapist, I came to understand that the painful depression experienced by individuals who commit suicide is unimaginable to those who have never experienced that intense emotional pain. And maybe I need to look at these school shootings in the same way—to assume that the emotional pain being experienced by a child who pulls the trigger is beyond what I or anyone else can comprehend.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking to excuse any act of violence. I’m simply acknowledging that these incidents may never make sense and I have to believe the child that pulls the trigger is experiencing emotional turmoil that is beyond what I can imagine. However, just because these incidents don’t make sense, we cannot ignore that school shootings are on the rise. We have to continue to seek reasonable solutions. We have to pay attention to any possible warning signs. And we have to figure out how to keep guns out of our children’s hands. I fear that ideas to put more guns in schools or the judicial system treating these children as adults are short-sighted reactions. I believe we have to move beyond the blame and recognize this as a social issue that requires a unified and thoughtful response.
My thoughts go out to the families in Butler County that have been impacted by this most recent shooting. May those of us who have not experienced this type of tragedy never have to experience it in the future.