On Friday, in the town where I live, there was a threat of a school shooting. It was found scribbled on the walls of the high school bathroom. Among racial phrases and other statements, it said, “school shootings are fun,” and “don’t come to school [on Monday].” The police found the alleged suspect, and hopefully this incident is over.
This comes only a few months after an actual shooting in this same school system by a 13-year-old student, and during the same week that the 13-year-old shooter was sentenced. The school has said, “We are sickened that we are facing this situation once again and will aggressively address hatred and threats to the safety of our students and community.”
In our world today where school violence issues are frequent enough that it is difficult to keep track of them, it is of the upmost importance that schools take threats like this seriously and act quickly to protect their students.
I am in complete agreement with swift actions and serious consequences for an offense such as this, and I have strong empathy for the students and the employees of the school where this took place.
I encourage anyone reading this, especially those in my area, to keep this situation and the school systems lifted in prayer.
The emotions and difficulty around these situations are heartbreaking.
That said, I can’t help but to wonder about the kid that wrote this message. Who was he or she? At the time of this writing, there aren’t any released details about the kid’s motivations. Was it a serious threat in which violent action was planned? Was the kid bored and wanted to pull a “stunt” without understanding the full implications? Was it a dare gone wrong?
I don’t know.
It feels clear to me that, at some level, this is a cry for help. This kid wrote the threat at a public place where it was sure to be discovered and action taken.
So who is this kid? What were they thinking?
Without any excuse for the behavior, I wonder what has happened in this kid’s life to stir such terrible threats? Are their parents divorced? Are they neglected at home? Are they picked on at school and they couldn’t handle it anymore? Maybe it’s too many violent video games? Perhaps it is bad music or TV? Maybe they come from a “good” family and the pressure to perform was too much?
I don’t know.
Perhaps there isn’t a visible reason, or some way of pinpointing it.
Is it our culture? Is it more than that?
Someone on twitter said, “Not good. First, the middle school shooting and now this. What is going on in Noblesville, folks?” I would take that question further, and ask – what is going on in the US, folks? What is happening in our culture that keeps creating such darkness and violence?
The reality is that these issues in our youth keep happening. Something is going on that is creating more kids that are full of woundedness and darkness and pain and anger and violence.
Is the World Good or Bad Right Now?
40% of current births are to unmarried women. 18% of children ages 0-17 are food insecure. 39% of Households with children ages 0–17 report shelter cost burden, crowding, and/or physically inadequate housing (www.childstats.gov). That’s not to even mention statistics around divorce, parental neglect, abuse, bullying, media, etc.
I can paint a dark picture using stats. The truth is though, using the same source, I can paint a great picture.
65% of children ages 0-17 are living with two, married parents. 83% of children ages 3–5 were read to three or more times in the last week. 93% of young adults ages 18–24 have completed high school (www.childstats.gov).
The point is that you can argue about media influence or divorce or whatever stat you think is the “cause” of this until you are blue in the face. Nature vs. nurture vs. culture vs. that time the kid was bullied in the first grade. Studies and stats just won’t have the answer. It is just too hard to pinpoint all the “why’s.”
So what do we know?
I have never heard of an emotionally mature and healthy student decide to commit school violence. The kids who choose to be violent aggressors are almost always later categorized as unstable or having a strong level of emotional woundedness. Sometimes it isn’t until after the fact that the pain or darkness the student was experiencing becomes visible – sometimes the kid “looks” just fine beforehand.
I think often the perpetrators of violence have, at one point, been victims of some sort of pain or woundedness themselves. This feels difficult to try explain in a short blog post – I get the sensitivity of the issue and I’m not advocating for leaner punishments or allowing empathy to not holding a crime like this with the gravity that it deserves.
But it is clear so many of our kids are hurting.
And they are crying out for help.
So what do we do?
First of all, we have to pray. Prayer is literally the most important thing we can do to influence our youth and our culture. Period.
We have to actively pursue our kids. You see a young person sitting by himself at lunch when you go to visit the schools? Reach out to him. You see a girl always walk by the skate park with headphones in and head downcast – walk over to her and say hello. As an introvert, reaching out is uncomfortable for me – but, reaching out is my calling as a youth worker. It is my calling as a Christian.
Not only must we reach out to our kids, we also need to really pay attention to them.
Next week, I am going to unpack the impact of what it means to really listen and be present with a student. This will highlight what I believe is the one of the most important things a youth worker must do (or any ministry for that matter). Listening to our students and really hearing what is happening in their lives creates an environment that I believe can stop school violence before it starts.
The data clearly shows that the more active, caring adults a young person has in their life, the more likely they are to succeed.
Absolutely a “messed up” family can help create a “messed up” kid. Yet, I have seen time and time again in our mentoring program in Kansas that even one adult intervening in that life can literally change everything.
This, truly, is the answer. Studies show that students who are wounded and dealing with emotional trauma find resilience and healing through caring adult relationships. Literally, the right kind of relationship physically heals the neuropathways of trauma. The adult doesn’t have to be trained or have a degree in the developing adolescent brain – they simply need to show up and say “I care about you.”
Beyond connecting and listening to them– our kids need us to be bold at the right times and talk to them about Jesus! Seriously. We earn our right to be heard in a young person’s life, and the we must tell our kids about Jesus. We tell them so they can know about His awesome love and His desire to be in their lives. If we don’t tell them, how will they know?
None of this is easy. Yet, it is worth it.
As a parent and citizen in my town, I’m sad for what happened. I’m sad for the stability and safety of our schools being threatened. I’m sad for this kid who made a huge mistake this Friday. I’m sad for a culture that is full of pain and desperate for Jesus, and often doesn’t even know it.
Yet, there is hope. This is why we do youth ministry. May we find the downcast, the broken, and the hurting – and show them Jesus. Jesus can change everything.
If you found this helpful or impactful, please comment below and share this blog! This is a new blog and I’d love your help in getting the word out to others!