2012-12-21 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Tragedy Redefined
By Joan Mettler

The column that was planned for this week was one about the most vulnerable victims of hurricane Sandy, our children. How while children, we adults expected our lives to be stable! How crushed we were when we endured our first death! How devastated we were if our parents did not get along and eventually parted! How destroyed we were if our family relocated! Stability, continuity, sameness, to some adults ennui, to children, security, is being tested at this time of Sandy. How long can we play this as a game as, “Isn’t it fun living in Brooklyn?” How much time apart from familiar surroundings and friends can a child withstand? How much of an impact on later years will this storm have?

Then, the mass murder of innocents in Connecticut happens and we find ourselves with one common understanding: it is not where you are (that you may be displaced as a result of the storm for many months), or what you have (what is lost that can never be replaced) it is the strength of the inner core of family that transcends tragedy that is of ultimate importance. None of us should ever know the desperation of those immediately affected by this tragedy.

As adults, experiencing TV coverage of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Waco et al., we know there are always nuts in the trees. That once in awhile one is shaken out of a tree and perpetrates such heinous acts as the shooter in Connecticut, is sadly inevitable: the scope of the tragedy, shocking. Is there anything we can do as adults to identify the nuts before they snap and get them help? As a youngster, I can recall always sitting down with my family to breakfast and supper. During meals, the family would discuss any topics that were raised including the character of our friends and how we spend our time. I can recall attending the after school center in elementary school for participation in sports.

I can recall my mother opening our house to my friends daily after school in high school so that we could dance along with Justine Correlli (perpetual dance contest winner) to the songs on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. On weekends our teenage group would have parties at the homes of group members on a rotating basis, all chaperoned. And, we did everything together from going to movies to attending school athletic activities. In fact, when one of our group members had a real date, we were knocked for a loop. It was time to grow up.

I knew my mother kept an eye on my friends in my teens during our after school dance time and at parties. If she found it necessary, she would discuss anyone of the group she had questions about, with me. At meals, the family discussed a variety of topics from which it would have been fairly easy to tell if my thoughts were off the deep end. Likewise, in my social life, if one of my friends had what I considered weird ideas, I would bring them up in conversation at home, with my friends and their parents. Parenting, the hardest job in the world if done successfully, cannot be turned on and off. It never ends. When caring for infants, parents perform time consuming tasks of feeding, changing, bathing and providing a safe and clean environment for their children. As a child grows and becomes more independent, a parent can have more time to herself: however, the time and energy must be rededicated to thinking and planning for the child in age appropriate stages and protecting them from the failings in that big world out there. Should parents always know who their children’s friends are? Yes. Should parents provide a time and place (dining table) for discussion of matters that affect the family? If appropriate! What should be discussed? Character is a great topic for discussion as in how friends treat their siblings, parents and friends. Drug fads and alcohol consumption are topical teen issues. Asking children of all ages how they felt when they were left out of the group that went here or there and what they could do about it is a hot topic because most of those who commit crimes against others (Connecticut) or themselves (suicide) have isolation issues. Can we allow our children to go straight from the dinner table to their computer or phone without supervision or occasional monitoring until bedtime? You be the judge.

If we, during talks with our own children, discuss the asocial child in the class, the child the kids in school think is odd, the classmate who is visably different thus shunned or meanly made a spectacle of in front of his peers, we may not have unmasked a killer; but, we have identified a person who will likely have difficulty in future social situations and who needs counseling. If the counseling leads to inviting parents to join sessions, so be it.

Counseling the large group of school shunners to forestall bullying and protect the shunned would not be a bad idea either. So we have a child who could be classified as a misfit and then we toss easy access to guns into the mix and whammo!

If parents cannot recognize or refuse to recognize their own child who, by odd behavior, is crying out for attention; and, teachers or classmates know of such a child, then this must be brought to the attention of school counselors who, must ply their trade or refer the child for outside help.

Is this a failsafe remedy to prevent mass murder? No. But, if we recognize the loner or the oddball and do nothing, we are remiss. If it takes a village, think of siblings, parents, neighbors, friends, teachers, clergy, friends’ parents as the gauntlet through which a troubled child must pass.

It is incumbent on parents of Rockaway's displaced families to keep asking their children how their day was and how they feel and listen to their answers and try to keep their lives as stable as possible. In Connecticut, the bet is several members of the shooter’s community had to know this guy was off the wall. What was their responsibility in all this? What do you think?

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