As the images of the victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School are being broadcasted throughout our country, we are confronted with the reality that these children look so much like our own children. As the President recited their first names, we were brought to tears with the realization that it could have been our sons and daughters, our school, our community. However, while we mourn the victims of Sandy Hook, let’s not forget that in many communities, the death of innocent children by gun violence happens way too often. This was the seventh mass murder in this country this year. Each day, there are 32 murder victims in our country. We grieve today for the victims of the violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School. However, let’s not forget the past victims. And most important, let’s act.
It is clear to me—and others—that there are three issues that need to be addressed in a more persistent and serious way if we want to reduce the likelihood these events will continue to increase. First, gun control laws need to become stronger and those in place need to be enforced. We are a country committed to freedom and our Bill of Rights. However, we were more than willing to give up some of those rights and freedoms after 9/11, whether it is security at airports or the Patriot Act. We must demand from our government officials that they do the same to better control the types of weapons we will allow on our streets and the way in which too many people get easy access to these weapons. Our children deserve our protection.
Second, the need for mental health services must be recognized and supported. While the specific conditions of the perpetrator are still unknown, it is clear that he suffered from a variety of mental health challenges. A comprehensive range of mental health services should be available to all that need them. Our communities have to build strong anti-stigma campaigns so people will feel comfortable reaching out for help. The science of prevention and early detection demonstrate that interventions make a difference. Let’s use this science to insure that all our children have the opportunity for a healthy and productive future.
Third, we need to confront the violent images that have become too common in our society. Video games promote the idea that killing is fun. With technology, the ability to graphically depict violence is beyond realistic and seems aimed at sensationalism. Whether through video games, the internet, or movies and television, the growth of an entertainment industry built on violence and death has led too many young people to become desensitized. Let’s understand that our children’s developing brains are susceptible to these images and we need to do more to control access and time spent on these activities.
In the end, as parents, there is much we can do. Start by hugging your kids and recommitting yourself to one of the primary tasks of parents: to love your kids and to keep them safe. Next, listen to your children. Pay attention to their thoughts, their fears and their hopes. Let them know without judgment that you hear what they are saying and provide guidance after you listen. Kids of all ages are more apt to listen after they have been listened to. Finally support each other. Parenting is difficult, especially at a time when we are all busy – talk to other parents or to your neighbors. Together we can build stronger communities so that all our kids can have the childhood we know they deserve.