In the wake of the recent Las Vegas shooting, I went on the Seattle NBC affiliate, KING5 News, to discuss how to talk to your children about guns and violence. Frankly, it’s not the first time I’ve covered this topic and as horrifying as it is, it probably won’t be last. I’m upset and sad that these shootings are becoming a part of American culture and I’m committed to doing my best to learn and translate what the experts advise us to do to decrease deaths from firearms.

I have lost people I love dearly to firearms so like so many of you, this is personal.

No question that we can feel helpless after horrific events. Focus on what you can do and share that with your children. If there is a gun in your home, keep it locked, unloaded & separate from ammunition. Remember that exposure to violent media and violent video games will change your child’s relationship with firearms – the “weapon effect” is real – so think carefully about what video and media your children use. Common Sense Media is a great site to help you sort out your choices.

Guns And Violent Media – A Toxic Mix With An Available Antidote. <— read this, it’s amazing. Basically the gist: violent media changes what children think of and may do with firearms and firearm safe storage reduces firearm suicide and accidental shootings by 75%. Seventy-five percent reduction of suicide deaths and accidents from firearms just with storage. Talk about it, do it.

As individuals we obviously can’t prevent mass shootings by what we do in our homes today, but we can communicate openly and honestly in age-appropriate ways with our children, we can build a safer culture with our firearms in America, we can vote, and we can remind children all of the things we do to increase safety in their lives. We can make sure that those around us know how much we want to keep firearms out of children’s hands, too. This will help.

Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns (including suicides, murders and accidents) than the sum total of all the Americans who died in all the wars in American history, back to the American Revolution. Every day, some 92 Americans die from guns, and American kids are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway of Harvard. ~Nicholas Kristof NYT Op Ed

How To Talk To Your Children About Violence:

Early elementary

  • They don’t know reality vs. fantasy. Children under age 8 years may not exactly understand what’s real and what isn’t. Remember that when you think of what they should be exposed to on TV or in media or on the radio while in the car. What happened in Las Vegas may be confusing to them, surreal, or hard to understand. They don’t need to understand all the facts, risks, and repercussions. What they need to know is that you protect them and love them and will answer any questions they have.
  • Keep information simple & brief. State the facts and let young children ask questions if they have them. Delving into detail may be unnecessary and hurtful, scary or confusing to them. Basic data may be enough. An example: “In Las Vegas, Nevada there was an event where people were fired at with a firearm. People were seriously hurt. The police worked hard to protect people and got them to safety. Events like this are very rare. Las Vegas is very far from here.”
  • No need to introduce information if they don’t know. I explained to my boys in the morning that there was a horrible man who used a gun to hurt people in Nevada and I told them because I wanted to control how they first heard about it (as opposed to the school playground). I explained that the gunman used a weapon to take people’s lives and it was a very large event hurting more people than ever before in US history. I reminded them how rare this is. I explained what we do in our home (no firearms, no toy guns, no video games with shooters) to make sure we don’t promote the use of guns and what I do at work each day to help use science to assist people in keeping their communities safe. I asked if they had questions. They didn’t. I’ll keep checking in.

Middle school

  • Need help distinguishing reality from fantasy sometimes. Remember that middle-schoolers know less about the world of firearms and tragedy than adults, simply because of their years on the earth and exposures. They may distort facts or figures, and relative personal risk. They may feel under threat. They may romanticize or misunderstand the gravity of a tragic event. Help them keep the rarity of these events in scope.
  • May ask more questions about safety. These children will often need to know more about how to protect themselves and what you do and others do in their lives to keep them safe. Focus on all you know in your home and neighborhood and in their school that protects them from unexpected harm.
  • Give simple, honest answers. All children deserve the truth. Let them ask questions and remember it’s always okay to admit you don’t some things but keep answers truthful and simple. Keep a sense of control when answering hard questions as best you can and admit that there are some things you don’t always understand, too, when you don’t know how to answer.

High school

  • Know reality from fantasy. Because of the widespread media coverage they will likely have lots of exposure to the details of the events.
  • Can be easy to distort reality during events like this for these children. Help them understand the numbers of how rare this is and ways that officials and the community are working to protect them.
  • May form strong opinions about violence in schools. As well they should! Teens will often react with a strong opinion and a strong need to help make change after big event. Listen to their ideas for making their lives safe and help engage them in ways that give them a sense of control (volunteering, making sure friends are safe, keeping firearms locked up and unloaded away from ammunition).
  • Emphasize their role in maintaining safety. They have control of their lives in ways and they know that. Remind them all of the things they can do to personally keep their life and their family and friends safe.

National Gun Statistics:

  • 1 in 3 homes with children in the US have guns. So firearms are fairly ubiquitous — we can just work to live with them, safer.
  • More than 40% of gun owning households with kids keep the firearm unlocked. Lock boxes and trigger locks can help! They are often affordable, easy to install, and provide huge protection.
  • Nine children and teens accidentally shot every day. Although mass shootings focus the nation’s attention, deaths from firearms are a part of everyday for someone here in our country.
  • 80% of unintentional firearm deaths of children <15 years of age occur in a home. Protecting your home and ensuring that where your children play is safe can make a huge impact.

Washington State Gun Statistics:

  • Suicide risk 9x higher where guns are kept unlocked (King County, WA data). If anyone if your home has mental illness, ensure firearms are unloaded and locked up. If someone in your home is severely depressed or suicidal it is my strong recommendation that firearms be removed from the home until the mental health issues are stabilized.
  • Nearly 40 percent of Washington households have a firearm present so firearms are in many homes. Making sure the places you and your family visit keep firearms secure is an important way to improve safety and contribute to making our communities safer at large.
  • 1 in 6 homes have guns stored loaded and unlocked — we can change this!
    • 35% of these homes have children living in them

 What Parents Should Know

  • Always ask if guns are present when your child visits another home. Just start doing it regularly so we all think of this as common sense. No judgment needed — we all want our children safe where they play.
  • Children who see guns in movies may be more likely to hold a gun and pull the trigger. Curiosity reigns. Here’s a phenomenal overview of the effects of virtual violence on aggression, what the research shows, and recommendations for what we can do. Consider thinking carefully about avoiding media and video games that include first-person shooters.
  • Keep your guns locked and unloaded stored separately from ammunition
  • Safe storage = 75% reduction in the risk of firearm suicide & unintentional shootings.

Resources: