I want to speak frankly about a difficult topic, and I want to give you advance notice that my message here includes discussion of threats of school shootings. Please take care of yourself in the way that makes sense for you. The purposes of writing about these things here are both to acknowledge some ways these threats are impacting kids and school staff and to reflect on how kids are doing and what this means for our ministries.
In December, two very young teens at the high school one of my children attends, separately posted threats online of mass violence at the school. As a result, the school went into lockdown on both occasions, and both kids were arrested within a few days for what was determined a “hoax” with the goal of missing school. On each of these days, I heard about the same kinds of things happening not only in other schools in Connecticut, but in other states altogether.
On the day I am writing this, December 16th , districts in every state have issued statements about online rumors of mass violence in schools throughout the United States that would allegedly take place on December 17th. Though an investigation indicated there was not a credible threat, some school districts are closing schools or activating precautionary security measures (and teachers in some places have noted that disparities prevent their schools from taking the security measures other schools are taking). Afraid and tired of being placed in harm’s way, some teachers and staff are calling out. Some students are staying home. For all impacted by these frightening messages and rumors, I am so deeply sorry. This is very hard, and families are already under stress from the pandemic.
The worst possible outcome is actual violence, directly related to these threats or otherwise. But if the best case scenario is that kids are terrorizing one another, even and perhaps especially if they are doing so in order to get some relief from the school environment (as happened at my own kid’s school earlier in the month), we have reason to be concerned about how kids are doing at the beginning of 2022. Behavior is communication, and there are far too many kids everywhere who are traumatized and struggling.
What healing balm can we offer young people right now? I have been thinking about how needed and lifegiving, even life-saving Unitarian Universalist ministry can be for children and wondering if there are ways to share this ministry more broadly. Whereas our larger society emphasizes an unhealthy level of individualism and “everybody in it for themselves” that produces anxiety, isolation, loneliness, and fear, we are trying to learn to build the Beloved Community and reminding one another of our interconnectedness. Whereas in school and even in many extracurricular activities children often worry that they are unworthy if they are challenged or unproductive, we teach that our worth is inherent.
I wonder if you too have been thinking about this, and what ideas and hopes you might have.