The shootings of Columbine High School, the Aurora Theater and now Arapahoe High School all happened in my hometown of Denver, Colorado. I drive by Arapahoe High School all the time, and my heart aches for the pain this school shooting has caused and the senseless tragedy of all of them. As a parent of two daughters recently graduated from high school, I cannot imagine the fear and loss of being directly involved in any of these incidents. Simply being a nearby member of the community hurts.
As a way of funneling my emotions to a positive outlet, I have crafted an article to help parents connect more deeply with their teen in an effort to prevent future, unnecessary tragic events.
To help prevent future tragedies:
1. Simplify and slow down. Life can be overwhelming for teens. Pressure can be immense to achieve, get into college and navigate all the demands of parents, teachers, peers and society. Encourage your child to focus on fewer things and not attempt to juggle too many activities and responsibilities. Model this behavior yourself as a parent and spend some quiet time with your teen. Give yourself and them permission to slow down.
2. Get away as a family. Go ski, take a hike, go camping or some other shared experience that gets everyone out of their usual routine and enjoying nature. Plan a vacation if finances allow. Unplug from technology as much as possible and have some fun together. Play together.
3. Travel to third world countries. Let your teen view a bigger world outside of their high school. Visiting a country that has poverty and hardship opens the minds of youth that they live in an abundant society by comparison. Volunteering at a school in one of these struggling nations can be even more impactful for the teen to get perspective of their life back home.
4. Laugh. Find ways to laugh. Watch funny movies together. Go see a comedian. Read a humorous book. Tickle each other or tell jokes. Lighten up with laughter.
5. Hug and say 'I love you'. Hug your child as often as you can. When they leave for school, give them a hug. When they come home from school, give them a hug. Let them know you love them as often as you can and in many different ways. Tuck a love note into their backpack or a pocket of their coat. Send a random text to let them know you love them.
6. Talk about how to overcome challenges and failures. Being kicked off a team, failing a test, or getting in trouble can all seem like insurmountable problems to a young person. Share your wisdom of how you have overcome difficulties in your life. Reveal how sometimes what appears to be a failure can have a silver lining or open new opportunities. Show your child that there is life after setbacks and disappointments.
7. Be trustworthy. Prove to your teen that you are trustworthy by not freaking out when they make poor choices or share information that rattles you. Be a safe person that they can come to and confide in. If you are upset by what your youth tells you, realize that parents are allowed to have human reactions. Share with your teen your need to process before you react. Again, build trust by coming back to them as soon as you are composed.
8. Check in with your teens daily. Ask the tough questions. Keep your mouth shut and listen to their words and body language. Even when you are busy with work and responsibilities, carve out time to touch base with your child.
9. Share meals. Eat together at the end of the day as often as possible. Invite your teen to coffee, lunch, or frozen yogurt. Teens love to eat and it provides an opportunity for conversation.
10. Encourage your teen to invite their friends to your home. You learn a lot from observing their interactions and conversations. Ask their friends questions and get to know them. Meet their parents if possible.
11. Offer to be the driver every chance you get! Again, another great opportunity to observe social interactions and listen to conversations.
12. Attend their activities. Introduce yourself to coaches or advisors and make yourself available to support the team or club. Get to know other parents and encourage team-bonding activities.
13. Pay attention to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. You will have a pulse on their attitudes and interactions by observing their updates. Have conversations if a post disturbs you. Guide them on appropriateness and safety on the Internet.
14. Utilize community support. Provide opportunities for teens to build layers of trust with other adults such as other family members, neighbors, coaches, religious counselors, teachers, and mentors.
15. Help them find their unique gifts and talents. Avoid living vicariously through your child by directing them to your favorite sport or activity. Support your teen to explore many areas until they discover their unique strengths. Then encourage them to develop and share their interest and passion.
16. Trust your gut! If something doesn't feel right, chances are you are right. Pay attention to their diet, sleep, and personal hygiene. They all provide clues to their feelings. Explore their anger or frustrations. Share your intuition with your teen. Obtain professional help before there is a crisis.
Parents-your teen must know you believe in them! Let's take these shooting tragedies whether in Colorado, Sandy Hook and other places as a wake up call. May good come from these terrible tragedies in honor of the victims to bring more conversation, connection, and love to our teens. Our schools need to once again be a safe haven for our children to learn and grow.
This article is dedicated to all the victims, their family and friends and most especially to Claire Davis, who died December 21, 2013. I also give appreciation to Laura Jacob for her contribution to this article.
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