Lynn Says: An American Tragedy
The following article was written by Lynn Barnett, a social worker and mother of two who was deeply affected by the tragic massacre at Sand Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. She sees her clientele in their homes.
Therapists don’t want to be thought of as bossy or controlling, but we do witness a level of mental illness that the lay community does not often see. It breaks my heart that twenty children, five and six year olds, died at the hands of a young man with a semiautomatic assault rifle his mother bought for target practice.
I work with children ages four to seventeen, some with a family history of drug use, physical and emotional abuse, and neglect. Many manage to remain solid and healthy in mind and spirit. But some aren’t so lucky. They suffer from depression, anxiety, and relational disorders. They may throw daily tantrums, become physical aggressive, and even threaten to kill themselves or a family member. And that’s not counting the children with diagnosable mental health problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.
I go into family homes where one of my jobs is to assess impulse control and the safety of the children and parents. If I note a problem, one of the first things I do is alert parents about keeping sharp objects like knives out of reach of children. Sometimes I recommend alarms on doors and other safety devices.
I am still amazed that some parents resist getting guns out of the house, especially when a child shows an inclination toward poor impulse control or violence. Even in foster homes, laws, in my view, don’t seem to be strong enough. In Kansas, “guns must be in locked storage or equipped with trigger locks.” In Missouri, “Foster children shall not be permitted to own or operate firearms or motor vehicles without written authorization from the legal custodian and proper training.”
From time to time, I suggest that parents consider an in-patient stay for their child either in a hospital or a mental health facility.
Here’s what I believe about violent video games. Many children, particularly those with some inclination toward violence, have a hard time separating fact from fantasy. They live in a world where magical thinking occurs on a regular basis, where people die on the screen but not in reality. Parents must acknowledge that it is time to restrict access to these games. It is my heartfelt opinion that children should not be playing violent video games that showcase killing and death. The child may become immune to the shocking tragedy of death and violence so that it is no longer terrible to see people lying dead at the hand of the player.
On a different note, children on medication for mental health reasons need to take it every day, including weekends. It is designed to help them feel in control of themselves. Giving children days off from their meds is asking for trouble. It also sends a dangerous message to disturbed children. They learn that they don’t always need to take their medications and can stop if they feel like it.
We also must not forget how important it is to provide children with a healthy diet using all the food groups. It feeds their minds as well as their bodies.
My hope is that we can prevent future tragedies by using our well-developed brains. We must learn to recognize how our self-serving attitudes put everyone in danger from the youngest among us to the oldest members of our society.