I’m a Baby Boomer. When I was in grade school, nobody talked to me about “good touching versus bad touching.” Now it’s in schools’ curricula.
Cars didn’t have seat belts — kids rode around loose with dogs in the beds of pickup trucks.
D.A.R.E. programs didn’t exist and medicine didn’t come in containers with child-resistant caps.
Children in the Cold War
In the 1950s, school children were taught to "duck and cover" in case of nuclear attack and were herded into school basements for bomb drills. Millions of comic books were distributed to kids featuring a cartoon turtle called Bert that urged them to “duck and cover” in an atomic strike.
High school students manned Ground Observation Corps Filter Centers, charged with warning of impending nuclear raids. Ordinary families built and equipped bomb shelters in their yards.
Even in the 60s and 70s, my schools had signs designating them as nuclear fallout shelters and we were taught how to equip our home basements in case of a nuclear attack.
My point is, we didn’t hide the dangers from our kids, we posted signs, provided guidance, and prepared contingencies. Teaching kids about potential dangers was as common as ensuring they were vaccinated for small pox.
My Alaskan born grandson grew up with guns in the home. His parents did a fine job discussing that. Soon after he learned to talk, when asked, “What do you do if you see a gun?” he immediately replied “Don’t touch it. Tell a grownup.”
Safety in All Forms
Different times, different circumstances and different dangers, demand different discussions... and drills. One thing hasn’t changed between my school and my grandson’s – fire safety. Ask a school age kid what they should do if they catch fire, and they’ll tell you: “Stop, drop, roll.”
They’re not taught to just hunker down and wait for help or for an adult to tell them what to do.
Every teacher, kid, and custodian in my school and my grandson’s knows what to do in case of fire or an alarm.
The result? Not one kid has been killed in a school fire in North America in the last 50 years. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, an internationally-recognized expert on human aggression and violence, says that’s because schools have invested in sprinklers, fire retardant building materials, battery backed-up fire exit signs, fire extinguishers, and regular fire drills and training for staff and kids. We need to take a similar approach to violence.
Some schools have already embraced such training and drills. A program called ALICE — which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — is one such training that has been recently given in Eastern Iowa schools.
It has a longer history in Texas. Debate and disagreement over the training content and whether children should be involved, or just adult school staff as in the Iowa schools, has already begun.
What we must not do is nothing.
I am not a tactical expert. I leave it to communities, parents, schools, and experts to determine the content of such training and drills. But I respectfully disagree with those who say it is paranoid to provide even young children with these tools and could traumatize them.
In the same way that training needs to be age appropriate for other dangers, so does preparing kids for physical violence.
I believe we should address safety from violence like we do fire safety, “good touch / bad touch,” and the dangers of drugs. We need to be teaching it and drilling it beyond just lockdown procedures in the school.
Violence — like child sexual abuse, fires, and drugs — is much more likely to endanger children outside their schools. Parents have a huge responsibility to prepare their children for today’s violence, including active-shooter scenarios. Parents who are also police officers have an opportunity to help guide parents who are not as well-educated on things like the five phases of the active shooter.
Since Columbine, we’ve had mass shootings in workplaces, churches, concerts, public streets, shopping malls, universities, city hall, a nursing home, an immigration center, a military base, a super market parking lot, restaurants, a hair salon, a theater, and post offices.
After the mall shooting in Portland, Oregon near the end of last year, I listened to an expert interviewed on the radio about what bystanders should do in such a situation.
The expert provided a three-word hierarchy of actions — “Run, hide, fight.”
I was glad for the information.
See Something, Say Something
The TSA over and over encourages us to report any suspicious activity at our airports. We need to teach that awareness and culture in our schools and all the other places of mass shootings and violence. In 1997 in my home state of Alaska, Evan Ramsey arrived by bus at the Bethel High School armed with a 12-gauge shotgun. He shot and killed the principal and a student and wounded two other students.
More than 15 students knew of Ramsey's intentions. Not one told someone in authority.
I bet all of them would’ve reported a smoldering fire.
In January of this year, there was a gun scare at a high school in my hometown. The Anchorage Police Department and the school responded wonderfully. But the fact remains that the victim who had a gun pointed at him waited an hour to tell anyone — an hour in which the assailant possessed a weapon in the midst of many other students.
Think what could have occurred during that time with just a standard magazine of 15 rounds, let alone a “high-capacity” one. I’m not blaming the victim. He’s a kid and said he didn’t tell because the assailant was following him around.
The lesson is that he hadn’t thought about, discussed, or been prepared for what to do in that situation.
Preparing our kids for real and present dangers isn’t paranoia — it’s basic, fundamental parenting and educating. It needn’t be any more traumatizing than teaching them about “stranger danger,” fire safety, or drugs.