The school tragedy in Florida has brought up more discussion in the news about gun control, active shooter school policies, mental health, and proper law enforcement protocol. While these are all valid issues to discuss, I believe the most important issue continues to be overlooked. We aren't looking at our students from a social/emotional, heart-centered perspective. This shooter's history was rampant with experiences of rejection. He was adopted and then lost BOTH his adoptive parents. Then he was expelled from school. That is three experiences of severe rejection and loss: 1) the loss of his birth family, 2) the loss of his adoptive family, and 3) the loss of his school family. As humans, we are a social species....we are designed to live in families, especially as children.
Additionally, we have failed to teach our children how to deal with their emotions and how to process big feelings. Traditionally, we have been a culture that has intellectualized life experiences, simply asking our children to "get over it" and to move on without giving them emotional space to process the feelings that come with devastating experiences. Emotions are energy and when they aren't processed or discharged, they build up and they build up. Unfortunately, the release of this build up will come through rage filled acts with horrifying consequences.
We must begin looking at this from the child's perspective rather than from a political debate or moral issue of right or wrong. When the family falls apart, the solution is to have the school become the family. The school was originally designed to be an academic institution but times have changed and we have the ability to change the course of history now. We need to connect with our students. We need to make sure they feel connected in their school families. We need to discipline in a way that teaches rather than rejects.
Strong, loving, and caring human relationships cost nothing yet are a powerful tool in the fight against school violence. And with this, I can only see that there is no coincidence that this horrifying event took place on Valentine's Day--the day we celebrate love and relationships.
For more information on becoming a trauma-informed school, click here.
Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.