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Blog #23: Talking To Your Teen About Racially Motivated Mass Shootings

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

When families are preparing to celebrate graduation season and the transition of students from high school to college, a gap year, or the work world, the nation has been traumatized again by a mass shooting. Last week, a gunman killed 10 people and injured 3 others at a Tops Supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. Of those shot, 11 are black, and 2 are white -- all 10 dead victims are black. Investigators concluded that the attack was racially motivated after finding the shooter's 180-page manifesto on white supremacy. This week the Washington Post released results of a poll showing that three-quarters of blacks polled worry that they or someone they love will be attacked because of their race (Post-Ipsos poll: Strong majority of Black Americans fear attack like Buffalo supermarket shooting - The Washington Post).

This latest mass shooting comes on the heels of another shooting where a gunman burst into a Southern California church and shot at Asian parishioners, killing 1 and injuring 5. Gun attacks that injure or kill occur nearly every day in this country. According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of May 15th, there have been 198 shootings in 2022, which averages to about 10 gun attacks each week. Gun Violence Archive

According to Psychology Today (How to Talk to Kids about Mass Shootings and Attacks | Psychology Today), in discussing concerns about mass shootings with your teen, here's what to consider:

· Teens are usually aware of current events through their digital media devices (computers and cell phones). That said, there is no reason not to bring up the subject. They are old enough to know about the tragedy, and a discussion with you would probably help them.

· Reassure your teen that there are more good people in the world than bad, and that people deal with tragedies through their faith, talking it out, and helping others.

· Remind your teen that shootings and race-based attacks are unlikely to happen to them, their friends, or their family.

· Remind your teen that their white friends are still their friends; the abhorrent acts of a white supremacist do not need to adversely impact their relationships with friends.

· Support your teen if they want to discuss their feelings with their white friends. Be prepared to talk again about how their white friends react to the discussions.

· Ask how they feel and validate their feelings. Tell them that it is okay to be scared and sad and that they will be okay. As a parent, you may not want to emphasize your fears because even teens will look to their parents for reassurance and calm.

· Share that showing sympathy for victims of gun violence can be helpful. You could talk to your teen about how your family could help by donating time, money, or sending letters to the victims’ families.

· Tell your teen that while being informed is good, over-exposure to the incident can exacerbate anxiety and stress. Watching too much media coverage of a devastating event can harm mood, sleep, performance, behavior, and psychological mindset.

There are also actions that your teen can take towards self-empowerment this summer before the start of college. These include:

· Advocating for more community resources for mental health services and laws that control gun proliferation.

· Writing to their federal, state, and local representatives stating their views and motivate their friends, families, and neighbors to do the same.

· Volunteering with community organizations that promote mental health and gun control or reaching out to the local NAACP Chapter (NAACP) to find out if there are volunteer opportunities to advance the interests of your black community.

Remember to be supportive and understanding of your teen during these difficult times.

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