How to Make Back to School Feel Safe? a Pediatrician Perspective

Last updated on October 14th, 2018 at 08:24 pm

It is certainly understandable, given the amount of press and official and unofficial commentary through law enforcement, social media discussions, and easily seen news programs, that fear should arise in the minds of both children attending school and parents of those children about their safety in what has traditionally been a bastion of safety, their schools.

This publicly available information, easily seen by children, has always been centered around the person responsible for the shootings occurring in schools and other public places. The information made available in the news media is repeated ad infinitum after the event occurs and only later is there information about the victims.

This public, news-related, policy needs to be changed to include minimal information, if any, about the perpetrator and immediate coverage about the victims and their families.

The American Academy of Pediatrics refers to the situation surrounding school shootings as “a public health threat to children” and has shared their perspective on the general health of the Pediatric population with such statements as: “We can start by working to advance meaningful legislation that keeps children safe….We also call for stronger background checks, solutions addressing firearm trafficking, and encourage safe firearm storage….children and their families (should) have access to appropriate mental health services.”

As a Pediatrician, I absolutely agree with their statements.

This is an issue that should be taken up by the public as a whole, through local involvement in both federal and local government. This is only one method by which fear is spread. The fact that domestic terrorism has occurred at all promotes the initial terror also seen repeatedly on television and written forms of news media in all its gory details. Your child is exposed to this every couple of months in our society. It’s no wonder there is some fear of the school environment.

To balance my professional opinion with my personal experience, I have three grandchildren who live in Connecticut, not far from Newtown where the Sandy Hook killings took place. I am probably biased, but I consider them to be stable, “normal” children, with good, close ties to their parents compared to the general population.

Although there has been no clinical PTSD, they have certainly become more aware and somewhat fearful of their surroundings. I consider the awareness to be a positive result of this episode, as every person in America has become more aware of their surroundings since 9/11. A fact that has possibly contributed to the absence of further attacks of this magnitude having taken place. They have also become much more tolerant and even thankful for the occasional practice drills in their school.

What can be done to decrease and hopefully eliminate such events and fearsome coverage of those events?

  • The ultimate answer to this is involvement by you and your children in local, civic activities. The Federal government can only do so much and every time it tries there is resistance from many sides. The real power lies in local and state governments who can exert a lot of power if supported by their constituency, something that changed in this respect after 9/11.
  • Get involved. There is much improvement possible at the local and state levels, but it must arise from the grassroots. To start, sale and ownership of assault rifles and large magazines capable of carrying large volumes of ammunition should be limited. There is always pushback on this and officials are slow to act as a result. We must push such acts, as statistics do not necessarily show either side to be correct on this issue.
  • You must answer your children’s questions honestly in an age-appropriate format and up-play the quality and determination of those people in their schools who are there to protect them from harm: from teachers to any law enforcement officers in place. If your child can grasp the concept of statistics, you might point out to them that 56 million students attend US elementary and secondary schools, and only a relative handful (159, less than 3/1000 of one percent) have been affected by such school tragedies, and many of these involved single episodes. Try to relate those numbers to things in their personal lives that at that statistical rate they clearly would not be involved.

  • In the extreme, especially if such events have occurred near to your home and school districts, your child might require a short period of counseling. Although child psychiatry services are not readily available in many smaller communities, a parent can ask his/her Pediatrician, the local medical society or the nearest large children’s medical center for such references.

Understand their fear and as parents there will be no trouble empathizing 

The bottom line is, as always, good communication with your children is of paramount importance! Never stop talking to your children, keep all the channels open, and you will be greatly rewarded as your children grow to maturity.

About the Author

Dr. Joseph Skoloff received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his medical degree from The Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He is a past Vice Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, a past Chairman of the Infection Control Committee at the Loudoun Hospital Center and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In his 41 years as a practicing pediatrician he has kept hundreds of kids and families healthy and safe and plans to continue to do so for years to come. Dr. Joe believes strongly in the combined power of parent and physician working together for the health of their children. He is an advocate for children everywhere and and adheres strongly to the principles of the American Academy of Pediatrics.Dr Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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