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Pastor column: Difficult discussions with your child about school shootings

By Pastor Ladd Sonnenberg, Bethel Lutheran Church

Once again, we hear about another school shooting that occurred on May 25, 2018 at a middle school in Noblesville, Indiana. Although many students have started summer break, this can be an optimal time for parents to have difficult discussions with their children about the issue of school violence. Saeed Ahmed and Christina Walker reported on CNN.com this May: "There has been, on average, one school shooting every week this year." While their count includes victims who are not students and those of domestic and gang violence, the authors highlight the widespread impact of gun-related violence near or in U.S. schools that has occurred in 16 states in 2018 alone.

Upon reading this news, many of us find ourselves shocked and wondering how to respond. As a pastor, I want to take a few moments to speak about how we as Christian parents might address this news with our children. I believe there are probably many different questions that you and your child(ren) are asking such as: Why did God allow these shootings to occur? And, what can I do to keep a similar event from happening in myschool?

First, I want to encourage you and your child to keep asking questions. Far too often we are afraid to talk about tragedies like these and we shut down. Instead it's important for us to check in with our child and see what he/she is thinking and feeling. We might even share our thoughts and feelings about the recent school violence and shootings.

Second, let your child know that it is okay to share his/her feelings with you, teachers, or a pastor or staff person at church if concerned about a student or friend because of things the student or friend is saying or posting on social media. Over and over again I have watched interviews of youth and students who said they never thought these types of violent acts could happen to them or in their school. Our children need to know that we are not immune to acts of mass violence here in Wisconsin. We must encourage our children to keep their eyes and ears open and be willing to share their concerns about other students or friends with adults.

Third, give yourself and your family a break from the media. Research is showing that people who inundate themselves with news about tragedies like the Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting can develop signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. See www.ptsd.va.gov and/or www.mentalhealthscreening.org when you or your family feel overwhelmed or stressed from media coverage. Again, it is good to talk about the shooting, but don't obsess over it.

Fourth, do something about it. I want to challenge you and your child to take a step in addressing this issue of violence in schools by learning more about what your child's school is doing to keep your children safe as well as how you can help support the schools in maintaining a safe environment. Also write letters, send emails, or call to your elected officials. Voice your opinions and let them know mass violence in schools has gone far enough in our country, and that if your representatives don't do something to improve the safety in schools, then they will lose your vote for the next election. To find out how to reach your elected officials go to www.usa.gov/elected-officials

Lastly, as a parent, you do not have to have all the answers. We don't know all the details of why the suspected or convicted shooters committed these crimes. In all honesty, scripture's only answer to the question, "Why does God allow bad things to happen?" is that God gave us all free will. It is okay, as uncomfortable as it may feel, to sit in the unknown. What we do know is that these acts of senseless, mass violence are not God's way of punishing us; furthermore, God is with us and working through these tragedies to bring healing and restoration. As Jesus said in John 16:33: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Simply put, Jesus tells us that we live in a broken world in which people do horrible things, yet God is with us and promises to help get us through these times.

It is my prayer that you take time this summer to have this conversation with your children or grandchildren.

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