Tornado in Moore, Oklahoma
The news clearly paints a devastating picture of an overwhelming disaster. These guidelines will give school staff and parents a starting place for beginning conversations with youth. Our hearts and prayers are with those impacted by this terrible event.
Boston Marathon Bombing
Entry April 15, 2013
We’re saddened as a nation and saddened for our children that we continue to have these events that take over whole evenings of media attention and remind us that we have those who walk among us who seek to wreak havoc.
This time it isn’t a school event, but this will certainly be a trigger for students who were in New York or Washington DC on 9/11, and many communities across our nation who have had terrible events unfold (such as the theater shooting in Aurora, CO, the shooting of Gabby Giffords and so many others).
While I’m not an alarmist and I don’t think we need to process every single event to students, this bombing in Boston is capturing every moment of all news station coverage tonight. The venue was a marathon, not a school-based event, but we can be sure that there are many students who are becoming psychologically saturated with the recognition that these events gain much coverage and – especially for youth – may seem like they are all much closer to home than they are, relative to the actual danger they present to all of us as we go through our days. That might mean that, if you live in, say, rural Idaho or rural Iowa, it might be easy to want to say to youth, “It is OK. Those things really tend to happen in urban settings because they’ll make bigger news.” While, on one level, that might be true about the kind of event that happened this evening, there are two other major factors here. One is that there are lots of high threat incidents that are very rural (very few school shootings occur in urban settings), and the other is that the continued assault on our national psyche comes into play, no matter where you live.
And then – more critically - there are all of you for whom this really does present a real and present sense of danger – those of you whose schools or communities have an overwhelming event in your recent history.
So, some initial thoughts. First, remember that youth will only do as well as the adults around them, so the first part is for us to examine our beliefs and reactions to this such that we can see what parts of ourselves remains hopeful and optimistic. Addressing our own fears and doubts before addressing youth is helpful.
This is a time that calls for each school and district to look openly at whether your own history makes this event a likely trigger for many of your students. If you are in Bergen County, NJ or New York, Washington DC, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, or any of the many other communities that might still be quite tender with having survived a catastrophic event, it is very likely that you will have students who are very worried and need to have the chance to talk about their sense of safety – or lack of safety – in the world. So what do we do and what might we consider?
- One way to do a check on the impact in your area of this is to have a staff meeting briefly on Tuesday morning to see how teachers weigh in on how this event in Boston is affecting them.
- Recognize that many, many students are themselves or have family members who are runners or who compete in such events, and they may have fears about these events.
- We’ve had recent deaths of emergency responders in bizarre events. You have many students whose family members may work in fields or settings that have their children worried.
- Military families may be struggling because of the similarities to the threats their family members are facing in the line of duty.
- The Boston Marathon draws people from all states in great numbers. There will be many students who know someone who was running this year, and there may have been hours of not knowing whether their friend or loved one was OK. You may be surprised at the ripple out effects of all of this.
- Be aware of your own desires not to deal with this because we feel so helpless in the face of these kinds of events, and just be cognizant that the mirror image of that is that youth probably need us to be able to be reassuring!
- Recognize that these events often spawn unfounded fears, comments founded in prejudices or racism during periods of speculation, so be ready to help youth understand those impulses. We’d all feel better if there were an easy answer to this, so it then also becomes easy for us to want to have an easy target for blame. Take this teachable moment to reinforce that, while every culture or sub-group may have a terrorist or hate group among them, each also has their heroes and positive leaders. Look for actions that can help address these tendencies in both youth and adults.
The generalized effect of this event for schools is more difficult to judge in this early stage than, say, Sandy Hook or Hurricane Sandy. I will continue to upload helpful suggestions as it becomes clearer how this will be for students.
For now, my recommendations are that:
- If your school, district or community has gone through a catastrophic event in recent memory, it is likely you have students who may not bring it up, but who will be quietly struggling with fears or concerns. It would be helpful for teachers to be able to lead a conversation with students that allows them to put words to their concerns, allows the school to address those fears in reasonable ways, and to reassure our youth that we are here to protect and provide for them. (“Last night on the news I saw what happened in Boston, and it made me think about our own tragedy last month. I thought we’d do a check-in on how we’re doing …”)
- If you are in a much more removed setting, it might work well for teachers to lead a query with students, perhaps asking general questions about what they’ve heard in the news that concerns them, or what thoughts they have about how school staff can do everything possible to help students feel safe. Giving students the opportunity to put words to their fears does two powerful things – one is that it allows students to diffuse some of their anxiety by talking about it in a group. The other is that it gives you as school staff and administrators the opportunity to learn what you can do to help students feel safe.
- Continue to check our website. As we hear from you in the next few hours or days, I’ll continue to provide guidelines to meet your requests.
- Visit our blog to ask questions and I’ll respond to them there as quickly as possible.
Let us know what you need. We’re here for you.
Conspiracy Theories Run Wild!
Some of you may be aware that the conspiracy theorists have gone wild over the Sandy Hook shooting. We have always had among us those who live from a place of suspicion and mistrust. It is not uncommon that, following major tragedies such as the shooting at Sandy Hook, conspiracy theorists come out of the woodwork and – now in the age of the internet – easily find one another and have something akin to an online contest on who can uncover something that could lend validity to their theories. The focus of these sites isn’t to uncover the truth. It is to reinforce their beliefs, whether true or not.
I was “found” by one such group. Although it started with one conspiracy blog, of course now others have picked it up. I received an anonymous email from one of the bloggers, which was how I became aware of it. The first few paragraphs on the blog were about President Obama and their theory about how he was involved in a conspiracy to make the shooting at Sandy Hook happen so he could rally support for gun legislation. The following extremely lengthy entries (which ran 60 pages if printed) were about me. About how I knew about Sandy Hook before it happened. Obama and me! This is most certainly the first – and I’m sure it will be the only – time that I will be the only other “feature” next to a sitting president in anyone’s blog! My friends who sit on threat assessment teams chuckled, jesting that I should be proud to be in such high company.
The blog’s claims about me are based in one of them having downloaded the guidelines on how to talk with children about the Sandy Hook shooting, and having looked at the data of information electronically linked to that PDF. It is easy to tell that the PDF I created the day of the shooting was made from a word document, and that that original word document was made prior to the shooting. That part is true. I have templates for a range of kinds of crises so when one occurs, I now almost never start from scratch. I take the closest set of guidelines from the past, delete and edit and wordsmith, and create a new PDF. Hurricanes, missing children, terrorist attacks, terminal illness, suicide, and yes – school shootings. I have numerous templates.
That is how simple it is. That I used a previous document to recreate the new one so I didn’t have to re-type paragraphs that were OK to use again for Sandy Hook. When I received the first email from them suggesting that I should come clean about how I would have known about Sandy Hook before it happened (based on thinking that I’d created the PDF before it happened) I went to the web site referenced in the email and was absolutely shocked and amazed at the tirade that had unfolded on that blog. I asked my tech support fellow what he could know by looking further into it, and he very forthrightly got on the blog and responded to every accusation. A very few of the bloggers took his comments as information – the rest were spiteful toward Brant in their responses. You can go to their blog to read his lengthy explanations. He is a prince among men, and his efforts were valiant!
What has transpired has become hateful, vicious and – of course – entirely unfounded. We receive hate emails, hate phone calls, and even more vicious harassment in their website. It is character assassination and harassment at its finest. And it has given me a terrific gift.
Prior to now, my presentation on cyber-bullying and suicide has been just like all my colleagues – based in research and observation by working with youth who are tormented by what is said about them online. This experience with the conspiracy theorists has given me terrific insights about what the students are experiencing. There is a terrific difference, however. My sense of identity has been fully formed for decades. I know who I am, and what I do, and what my gifts are in this world. Likewise, my experience with social media is with adults who are mature users; interesting, considerate, respectful, creative, loving, fun, intriguing, and kind. I’m thankful for all of that, because who I am and what my social media life reflects is that of a fulfilled life.
What I recognize, though, is that this experience allows me to grasp, like never before, is that this same kind of hateful and vengeful anonymous attacks on youth can and does change their beliefs about whether the world is a kind and loving place. They are still in identify formation. And increasingly, they’re suffering from “virtual dissociation” in which their identity is more closely tied to what is said about them online than what they experience face-to-face.
My presentations on cyber-bullying and suicide have become immeasurably more powerful than ever before, because of this experience. Every presentation since has brought out remarkable awareness for those in attendance, and they leave with a much greater commitment to supporting youth who are bullied online. And quite delightfully, it has generated a showering of “love mail” (which is what people have actually called it!) because attendees feel badly that I’ve had to weather this experience, so they leave the presentation and then send me wonderful messages!
I’m not feeling sorry or sad or bothered by all of this. It has had a great purpose in my professional life. I love what one woman asked after the first training in which I mentioned this. “Are you going to become an activist about social media?” My response is, “Oh, I hope I already am!” That is the gift in all of this.
Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting
We will continue to add to this resource page as we know what else would be helpful. Please don’t hesitate to call us at 503-585-3484 or email Cheri at <firstname.lastname@example.org> with the kinds of needs you see and we’ll work on getting resources uploaded. We’ve added more specific guidelines for conversations with students and will upload a parent guide soon. Please respect the copyright by leaving the downloads intact, complete with the copyright and contact information at the bottom of each page. You can make as many copies or forward in any ways you’d like, with that caveat.
If you would like to leave Cheri a comment, please see her blog.
Let us know what else you need!
Uploaded 12.17.2012 at 9:00 PST: Guide to Supporting Teachers, Secretaries and School Staff
There are additional, more general guides on our “Free Resources” page.
Cheri on local station KOIN6 on how to talk to your kids:
Cheri on WLBZ 2 in Bangor Maine:
Cheri on a radio station:
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Hurricane Sandy Tips
Cheri was in Manhattan, Staten Island and on the Jersey shore the week of November 12 – 16 providing support to districts suffering impact from Hurricane Sandy. She held staff and parent meetings, met with administrators and leadership teams and was given the opportunity to drive through decimated regions.
If your district is still reeling from the after-effects of the storm, please contact the office at 503-585-3484. Please specify if you would like phone consultation, or to arrange video conferencing with Cheri. You are also free to use Cheri’s personal email at <email@example.com>.
If you are dealing with a current crisis and would like help, fill out this form or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll get back to you as soon as we are able. Visit our In Crisis Now? page for immediate tips.
If you are looking for additional resources needed and are unable to find them on our site, please let us know and we may be able to post them soon for you.
This video provides suggestions and guidelines for schools on helping their children during the hurricane:
The video is for parents:
Please respect the copyright of the information you are about to download! You can share these with anyone and make as many copies as you like, but please leave the copyright information at the bottom of every page and leave them as they’re printed.
- Activities for Hurricane Sandy # 1
- Discussions with Children About Hurricane Sandy
- Natural Disasters: Supporting Students and Staff
- Helping Children Cope with Hurricane Sandy
- Helping Children Cope with Hurricane Sandy: Parent Guidelines
- Hurricane Sandy: Tips for Administrators, Counselors and Teachers