I told myself that I was not going to respond publicly to the tragedy in Texas. For once I was going to sit it out because today should be all about my daughter. Today is her high school graduation. “Stay focused, stay in your lane, and just keep doing your job helping the people in front of you today” I kept reminding myself all day. I wanted to put off my racing heart and ridiculous anxiety as all the excitement of the day. Then it hit me, the very reason that I should not remain silent is that tonight I will get to experience the joy as my 18 year old daughter walks across the stage to graduate. Yesterday, in a matter of minutes, many parents were robbed of ever realizing this moment in time for their child and while I bask in pride tonight, they will sit crying for their children.
Before you read further I am more than happy to be transparent about my disclaimers. I support no one issue or side; I claim no allegiance to a political, religious, or social agenda. The only cause that I support is that I am and always will be an advocate for children. Every day I work in the trenches with other child advocates on issues such as education, child abuse prevention, parent support programs, and health equity. We are like your computer antivirus running quietly in the background; most people don’t give a passing thought of the issues we work to change until something tragic happens to a child.
I am disgusted by the deep division and finger pointing on so many issues which continue to leave children in unforgiving places where nothing ever changes. I am disheartened that we have lost the art of conflict resolution and compromise for the greater good of our children. As a clinical counselor working with children and parents for over twenty years, I have had a front row seat to the slow demise of the mental well being of our kids, and this was way before COVID. While my mental health colleagues and I may not have all the answers, we have watched this erosion unfold over the years and have been sounding alarms that have been to no avail. I will say it loud and clear WE ARE AND HAVE BEEN IN A CHILDHOOD MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS!
This crisis is far worse than not having enough mental health providers or funding to support mental health services. While these are current issues, it is not at the core of our crisis. If we want to stop violent acts, we have to back up the story and intervene way before someone puts a weapon in their hands. The root cause of substance abuse is not the substance. The solution is not seizing all the drugs and locking up the dealers. That makes us feel good and think we are addressing the problem but we have only cut the branches, not pulled up the roots. To truly eradicate substance abuse, you find out what is driving the need for the drug and address the problem at the root. Eradicate the need for the drug and you dry up the demand. So what drives the need of someone to pick up a weapon and wipe out nearly an entire class of students along with teachers? There is one psychological human element that allows another to kill … a lack of empathy, and the development of empathy begins at birth.
I have seen this gunman called a monster, a demon, and all kinds of names because we are only looking at this snapshot of time in his human development. We are looking at the branches of this tree, not the roots. This individual at one time was an infant, walked the halls of an elementary school, played games, had a favorite food, possibly played sports, and all the other things that happen as we travel from childhood to adulthood. Psychologically, somewhere along the way, something failed this individual in his development. There are many social media expert theorists out there (yes, that should be read sarcastically)… so which culprit was it? Was it the parents, the schools, the church, the community, gun laws, video games, social media, drugs? It feels like a very dark game of Clue.
If you want to know who failed all of these children including the gunman, we have to be willing to pull our pointing fingers back and look in the mirror. Point blank as a society we may say we value children but our national economics say differently. Any financial planner will tell you if you want to know your values and priorities look at your bank account. What are you spending your money on? Your spending habits tell you about your values and priorities. Here are some highlights of how much we value our children.
Science is clear that the first five years of life is crucial to brain development, especially social and emotional development. We value the mental development of our children so much that we pay childcare workers barely over minimum wages to teach twenty children in a classroom of three year old’s. We value children so much that we have sacrificed their mental well being to press down curriculum that is developmentally inappropriate and then turn up the pressure cooker to test them on material that their brain is not ready to absorb. We have created a society where children are defined by their GPAs and they feel pressure not joy to perform on stages and athletic fields. We value children so much that we have created an entertainment driven culture where fame is rewarded and forgotten how to teach our kids the gift of boredom.
If we want to stop waking up to horrific violence, it will take more than removing the weapons. So, please do contact your local, state, and national politicians about reform for children but gun reform alone will not do it. We must rewind to the start of life and prioritize our children not just in lip service but by funding the areas that create emotionally healthy adults who have empathy, connection and compassion for others. Empathy…cultivate it… teach it…pass it on.
Read more about Melissa C. Harrell and her work. She is the author of Common Threads: Why the Answers to the Present Lie in the Past.
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The purpose of this blog is to offer educational information related to mental wellness. Resiliency Counseling & Consulting, PLLC and Melissa Harrell do not offer diagnosis or treatment through this medium. If you feel that you or a family member needs to access mental health services, first contact your primary care physician for assessment and direction in your area. If you need immediate help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.