Finding our Way in a World Filled with Rage

By Hylton I Lightman, MD, DCH (SA), FAAP

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It’s an understatement to say that our world today is loaded with rage.
Last week’s tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, is but one example. The lives of the 17 victims are irreplaceable. Unfortunately, life will never be the same again for their families and for the adolescents and adults who were in the school that day. They will carry the pekel” for 120 years and beyond.
In response, and wishing to effect positive change, Emma Gonzalez and her fellow grieving students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are mobilizing forces for tighter gun control laws. No doubt their planned march on Washington scheduled for next month will be built on this groundswell of anguish. It’s one way to go. More on that later.
There are responses and proactive actions for us as a community.
We are a nation of rachmanim, bayshanim, and gomlei chasadim. The Chabad rabbis on the ground in Florida were extraordinary, stepping to the plate in a horrific vacuum of confusion and angst and bringing an appropriate framework for action and grief. Worldwide, we davened and recited Tehillim.
Yet more needs to be done. Let’s begin with security.
Our own precious children were in school when this disaster was perpetrated. Did we question (even for a moment) their safety? And then we sent them back to school the next day. Without thinking about it. And then we went to shul on Shabbos. Without thinking about security.
Few of us know and understand the security procedures and systems in our schools and shuls.
What’s the most recent time our children had a lockdown drill? How often are there lockdown drills? How tight a relationship is there between the schools and local police precincts? What’s our community’s relationship with Homeland Security? Are all school and shul entrances secured? How? If not, is there a plan to secure them? This includes back and side entrances for deliveries and garbage pickup, not just how children and others enter and exit. Do we have security measures in place for community gatherings and dinners?
While professionals may deal with these questions, parents and community members also have a role. We should care. We should be asking the right questions. And we should be volunteering to help move all our mosdos into the most secure security situations possible. It requires work, money, and time.
The operative question should be: what can I do to help?
Communication honest communication with our children is paramount, even when it’s uncomfortable for us adults. We must make the time to speak to our children about this (and any other) tragedy. Please refer to the sidebar for some guidelines.
Further, Nikolas Cruz and his sickeningly premeditated shooting rampage didn’t appear out of nowhere. There were warning signs something was brewing. Cruz must have been plagued by psychiatric, social and academic demons for a long time. Did teachers pick up on clues and recommend evaluations and/or interventions?
It’s my understanding that the Parkland school district is a good, solid school system. Yet even in good school systems, it’s not uncommon for teachers to be overwhelmed with the duties of teaching regular” students. But if there are warning signs, pay heed and involve the administration. Fast. At the risk of sounding trite, an ounce prevention is worth a pound of cure. Please G-d, no other child should go unnoticed.
Before being expelled from school (and it’s usually a long road until one is expelled), Cruz had shared with classmates pictures of animals he had shot. His classmates allege that he threatened several times to bring his legally obtained firearms to school. Teenagers may have a propensity for gossip but they usually want to help others. Were Cruz’s threats reported? How were they dealt with?
I’m guessing that the straw that probably broke the proverbial camel’s back and snapped Cruz’s mind was his mother’s death this past November. Subsequently, he went to live with a foster family. His firearms were locked in their family safe; they profess having no idea he had a key to the safe.
At the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), we question parents at every well visit about the presence of firearms in the home. If the answer is affirmative, we then inquire about a secured location for ammunition. Why? Because it’s for the safety of all.
I don’t know the foster system intimately. Am I assuming correctly that the foster system has in place the right checks-and-balance system to check out the status of firearms in a home? The responsibility of the persons who have access to the key to the safe?
Much has been said about the FBI receiving an anonymous tip on January 5th that Cruz had a desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts” yet failing to act. We know that the FBI has been busy of late. But there are no words to justify this inaction.
Let’s use this information obtained with the benefit of 20/20 vision in hindsight to move forward intelligently and correctly.
Understandably, there’s focus on gun control. The vision and energy displayed by Gonzalez and her friends is admirable. Planning for a march in Washington to impact mid-term elections is a high goal, especially for a high school senior. May her energies take her far, doing wonderful things for all humanity.
Yet the world is not so black-and-white. Allow me to elaborate.
It’s not even a question that access to firearms in this country needs to be tightened considerably tightened. There’s also a difference between a handheld pistol and other firearms. I don’t think it’s possible to outlaw all weapons which is why access to them needs to be revamped and ricocheted up a marked amount. Outlawing them will only send them underground; they’ll be obtainable but perhaps at the price of illegal actions which will be only more difficult to track.
Revisiting the Brady Law is a must. Assault weapons and such should have in place stringent background checks. Excuses that people need them for hunting is not acceptable. We don’t want humans to be hunted.
Prohibition in this country during the 1920s and 30s imposed a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. The result? The bootlegging industry began. While fortunes were made as people did almost anything to procure their liquor, it was accompanied by loss of life. It’s too horrific to imagine what would be created if the firearms were completely banned. There are insidious sources that will stand by, ready, willing and able to fill that void.
Gonzalez shouldn’t stop her efforts. She’s listening to that inner voice that wants meaningful change. Good for her.
Perhaps by marching on Washington on a grand scale she will effect change that can prevent similar tragedies from happening. Prevention, through securing our schools and other institutions and making sure that no child slips between the cracks,” would be two tremendous accomplishments. At least they are places to start.
As always, daven.
TALKING TO OUR CHILDREN ABOUT THE PARKLAND SHOOTING
Although we adults are struggling with our own thoughts and feelings about this horrific tragedy, it does not absolve us from the responsibility of talking to children about what they are seeing and hearing, even when they did not directly witness the event. Here are some guidelines that parents can use for children who’ve been indirectly affected by this calamity.
Honesty is important but that doesn’t mean children need to know the details. The child’s developmental lens” should determine what he needs to know and how we speak with him. Answering a child’s questions depends on what he can understand without further alarming him.
First, find out what your child already knows. Gently ask questions and listen to their responses. This is an opportune time to correct misinformation. Acknowledge your child’s feelings; this should be the focal point rather than the event itself. Searching for the right words to use? Check out the website https://www.afnatal.org/supporting-your-children-in-times-of-stress/.
Let’s start with young children. Infants and toddlers are comforted when caregivers was warm and responsive to their needs. Highly predictable routines are crucial.
Because young children are sensitive to adults’ emotions, make every effort to speak in a calm voice. Language should be simple. Answer questions honestly but with minimal detail so their imaginations do not run wild. This age group does best when reassured they are safe. Perhaps some extra attention from Mommy, Daddy or a loving adult might be needed.
School-age children may understand more and, as a result, may need to speak more. That’s okay. Please still exercise caution in sharing details. Listen carefully to what they say and ask and respond accordingly.
Adolescents need adults to listen to their thoughts and feelings without the adults editing them. Some teenagers are already grappling with life and death issues and whether or not this is a world of justice. They want honesty, not doubletalk. However, teenagers do it on their timetable, meaning, it’s when they’re ready to talk.
Our world is plagued by TMI too much information. It’s hard to regulate what our children are exposed to, especially when they have friends and walk the streets. This is not an excuse for us to cop out. Rather, use this as an opportunity to invite your children to ask questions and to bring you information to discuss. Of course, never give up setting boundaries and monitoring your children on any electronic device. Kids know far more than we realize (or want to admit).
Exercise. Get and keep you and your children moving. I’m not joking. It keeps everyone busy and less self” focused. It’s bonding time. And you already know the benefits to setting loose those endorphins.
Take care of yourselves, Mommy and Daddy. Our world is a stressful one. Make sure you eat well and rest. Socializing with peers is important.
If you or any family member or loved one are struggling, don’t be a martyr. Seek professional help. There are mental health professionals, rabbonim, askanim and others who can help you or at least help you to get the right help. Healthy parents mean healthy children.
Together, let’s move forward with our children’s mental and emotional health intact.
As always, daven.

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