I have been honored to spend my life listening to young people.
The recent school shooting sparked a wave of spontaneous reactions from the teens. I have twice facilitated formal discussions about the school shootings.
The first time was right after Columbine on April 20, 1999. At the time, we didn’t have a teenage center, but so many of our peer educators were confused that I had an open conversation at the Washington hospital. More than 40 teens took part. I was happy to provide an outlet for their concerns, but nothing was resolved.
After Sandy Hook on December 14, 2012, our peer educators requested a memorial at our teenage center and placed angels on our Christmas tree for every lost life. It was their idea, not mine.
The second lively discussion was a conversation I hosted at Washington & Jefferson College after Parkland on February 14, 2018. The panel included 37 peer educators, who led over 130 adults, in a conversation involving some of the best professionals in our community. . . While the conversation that evening was exceptional and I was incredibly proud of the teenagers who facilitated the small groups, we left with no resolution. We have achieved my goal of providing young people with a safe space to talk.
I know lockdown drills are scary. I wonder how much these exercises affect the mental health of our young people.
Here are a few words from young people on the reality of confinements:
“I know I’m supposed to run if I’m told to run. But I can’t imagine running around and leaving my friends or my teacher.
“I grew up with these (confinements). I hate them. Some of my friends don’t take them seriously. I act casually, like I think it’s a big joke, but deep down I’m terrified. I hate the idea that I have to prepare to be shot or watch my friends die. I bet my friends think I skip the exercises too. On the outside, I’m all jaded, but on the inside, I’m a mess of nerves.
“I think if I die my mom will never get over it.”
“People say that at my age I’m supposed to feel invincible. May be. In other things, a little. Like, my gram is constantly on me for driving safely since I just got my license. I’m not afraid to drive although I understand how dangerous other drivers can be. When it comes to lockdown drills, however, I’m the invincible opposite. I am vulnerable. I am a 4 year old inside.
“I had a moment of pure cynicism after this last shoot. I mean, here I write college admissions, calculate funding, and make plans. I couldn’t get these dead children out of my mind. They went to school thinking they had their whole life ahead of them. It’s too much to think about, you know?
“I just want it to stop.”
Maybe this comment from a 15-year-old the day after Sandy Hook sums it all up.
“When I go to school, I especially try not to think about that. But sometimes I think about it too much. I look around my classroom and wonder who could be killed if a gunman came to our school, ”said the 15-year-old. “I wonder if I would be brave enough to stand between my friends and a gun. I wonder if I would have the courage to protect my teacher. Most of the time, I just pray that I never need to know.