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Julia Steiny: Do Not Succumb to Fear

Friday, December 21, 2012


The staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School had taken every reasonable precaution to protect the safety of their kids.

Still, a madman went on a murderous frenzy. The details are now only too familiar, with the media on its own rampage, striking terror in the public's hearts with excruciating images of 20 darling kids' faces. Six teachers and caretakers also died.

I can only remotely imagine how it would feel to have one of my own boys brutally, senselessly murdered. I would be raging, even verging on madness myself. My deepest sympathies go to the whole Newtown community.


We need to bear in mind that no reasonable precaution will stop an insane person, armed to the teeth. Taking action on the impulse that cries "There outta be a law" will only pile on more bureaucracy. Litigious, fearful America is already suffocating under mountains of rules, regulations, laws, policies, and mind-numbing protocols. They don't work. Life can not be guaranteed. People die anyway.

Children die. Despite our best efforts to be fabulous parents and caretakers, children get cancer, have accidents, and commit suicide.

Statistically, the biggest threat to kids is putting them in cars.

Statistically, schools are still remarkably safe.

Mind you, I do not understand why military-grade assault weaponry should be anywhere but with the military.

And we certainly could do better with our mental health system, always a step-child of our health system.

But if fully 21 percent of our teenagers have a "severe" mental disorder, the problem can't lie with biology, but with how our communities and families are affecting kids' biology. We are not organized so kids can roam safely with pals, out in nature, or in fun neighborhoods where they learn about natural consequences. Super-protective parenting doesn't produce the resilient, confident, life-loving kids we want. Their mere survival is not enough. We are scaring them unreasonably.

Most parents I know feel it's too dangerous to let their kids walk to school, even in ritzy neighborhoods, even when kids are overweight, even though "stranger danger" is statistically negligible.

Fear of liability and injury has made playgrounds so boring, children resort to misusing the equipment to milk a little fun out of it, and end up in the ER with injuries anyway.

Many college freshmen go bonkers breaking out of their over-parented bubble, abusing substances and bombing out academically. They know nothing of managing risk.

Our fears are making terrible decisions about how we organize kids' lives.

So here's how to protect the kids as well as possible: Build your community.

Turn off that damn TV. Give fear-mongering a break. Invite the neighbors in to play board games, read out loud, cook together, or just talk. Get to know them. Get to know your kids better. Corral them into supporting a community project. Join a church, non-profit board, volunteer association. Sit on your front porch when children could or should be walking to school to reassure their parents of safe passage. Get out of your electronic cocoon. Invest in face time with other human beings.

And of course, take all reasonable precautions.

But even as we mourn with Sandy Hook's families, resist succumbing to fear. The kids want us to stick with our ideals of the land of the free and the brave. We need not dwell obsessively on the remote possibility of armed madmen.

Even though such insanity is all too heart-breakingly real to us today. 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at EducationNews.org. She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building demonstration projects in Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at [email protected] or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.


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