What would Mr. Rogers say about guns and children in America?
In the wake of the latest school shooting in Parkland, Florida the children I see in my practice are again fearful. While it is highly unlikely that any of the children we know will be killed in a school shooting, gun violence in our community is a sad fact of life and does certainly affect children we know. For those of us who care for children as parents, relatives, and friends, we must be active in promoting peace as wise ones have taught us to.
As a parent and professional, there are certain experts and institutions that I regularly trust for guidance. Fred Rogers, Benjamin Spock, and T. Berry Brazelton are high on this list. All three of these men took a stand against violence in the context of childhood wellbeing.
While Dr. Spock’s guidance is outdated today, he was regarded as “the” parenting expert from the end of World War II through the 1980’s. Spock, an ardent anti-war activist became outraged that babies he treated ended up dying as young adults in Vietnam. What would he think of the fact that the number of Americans killed by gun violence since 1968 is greater than the casualties from all U.S. wars combined*?
For decades Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (hosted by Fred Rogers) taught children how to understand and express feelings. As a man, Fred Rogers was a model for boys, and showed them it was ok to cry and talk about their feelings. He also taught us that “peace is not the opposite of war. Peace, like love or hope is an action one can take, something that can be done not just something that might arrive.” This quote emphasizes that we as adults must take deliberate action in our homes, schools, and communities to work toward peace.
T. Berry Brazelton (known affectionately as America’s Pediatrician) died just this March at the age of 99. After the Newtown Connecticut school shooting, he outlined specific actions to reduce gun violence in schools and the community; including reasonable gun control, actively opposing the NRA, and improving mental health services. The legacy of Dr. Brazelton’s pediatric practice of 50 years was helping parents and professionals to promote healthy emotional development in children; his Touchpoints center continues this progress in his memory.
To round out the message of these experts, The American Academy of Pediatrics and The American Psychological Association also assert the importance of gun control legislation, and increased mental health services.
All of these renowned experts in child-rearing have a single, succinct message; the process of reducing violence is an active one that all of us can participate in. As parents and teachers we can make peace education part of our daily discourse.
We can help children learn the skills of conflict resolution, and teach them to expand their emotional vocabulary with books, conversation and play. We can be present by turning off our technology, eating together, and actively listening. As parents we can choose not to buy violent games, practice gun safety, model the expression of feelings as a strong not a weak attribute (especially fathers to sons).
As voters we can take an active stand to fund mental health programs, promote stricter gun laws, uphold the gun laws we do have, vote for politicians that support gun control, and actively work to reduce the power of the NRA. Violence is a child development issue. We all have a stake in the safety and wellbeing of our children.
Now is the time for each of us to take an active role in creating a peaceful “neighborhood” for all of us.
*Study on American war casualties by Congressional Research Service and data from Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.