How to talk to your kids about school shootings

The 18-year-old gunman who slaughtered 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school barricaded himself inside a single classroom and "began shooting anyone that was in his way," authorities said Wednesday in detailing the latest mass killing to rock the U.S.

All of the victims were in the same fourth-grade classroom at Robb Elementary.

In 2021, there were a total of 61 active shooter incidents across 30 states, resulting in 103 people killed and 140 others wounded. The most occurred in the country's most populous state of California (6), followed by Georgia (5) and Texas (5). Four incidents each occurred in Colorado and Florida, the FBI said.

As the aftermath of yet another deadly mass school shooting unfolds in Uvalde, Texas, many Americans are left to wonder whether there is an end in sight for such tragedies. 

With yet another mass shooting at a school in America, parents are again faced with the task of helping their children process their emotions and anxiety.

"One of the things that resonated the most with me in a chat with moms was, you know, it's our responsibility to be the ones to provide this information to our children the best we can," said autism expert Dr. Ashley Wiley Johnson, mother of two. "I'm trying to as calmly as possible rip off the Band-Aid and just share the facts with them. It's devastating, but we need to be able to take responsibility as moms and kind of lead the way."

Suzette Lowenthal, Hermosa Beach city manager and mother of five, said a school's partnership with local law enforcement is more critical now than ever.

"When I was on the school board, we say - and I hope we still say this today - school is the safest place we can send our children… we felt confident to be able to say that. Today, as a member of local government in Hermosa Beach and having worked in local government for 30 years, that partnership with the school district and with local law enforcement agencies such as the police department and fire department and health facilities, is critical more today than ever before. And that's the sad thing."

Mona Shaw, mother of three, said honesty is key in tough situations like this. 

"I've been very forthright with them, talking to them very openly about the pandemic, about George Floyd, about the Capitol riots. But today, I wasn't able to, and taking them to school, I was nervous. What are they going to hear at school? I want them to hear about it from me before they hear about it from their peers or anyone else. And if they have questions, I want them to come to me with it. But, you know, I think I feel what every parent felt this morning, just real uneasiness. I'm angry. I'm scared. I'm nervous."

Parents also need to address the issues surrounding mental health and gun safety.

"I think we need to take time to be able to talk with our children more than anything. The time is now to listen to them, to allow them to have space to express how they're feeling, but also to just allow them to grieve along with us. I think it's really critical."

Parents are saying thoughts and prayers aren't enough. They want more to be done.

"So we need action from all of our leaders to band together and as Ashley said, to band together despite party affiliation, despite any differences, we have to unite behind our kids. If there is and there is no greater unifier than children. And I'm appalled and shocked and heartbroken that we haven't found a way to do that. So we do need to band around them, keep them safe. And the only way to do that is to remove guns from the hands of folks that are not qualified to have them. And that's a hard conversation for everyone. But as moms, I think we're all prepared to say that and have been saying that this should not be a threat in our society, our kids shouldn't be threatened and may have."

It's also important to talk about the role social media plays in today's society.

"One thing we haven't touched on, which is somewhat of the elephant in the room, is how difficult our kids have it today with social media. It is such a hard environment for them. It is so much harder to be a kid today. The stress of being a child today, even in privileged settings and privileged households, it is incredibly stressful and social media has not been a mother's friend when it comes to keeping our children safe, and it has not been our child's friend. And so we need to talk with them on how to interact with each other, how kindness matters, how to reach out to that kid in the class that might seem isolated and help speak to that child."