I hate to say it, but I will anyway:
When I was a kid ...
But ... when I was a kid, all we had to worry about were earthquakes, which were never as bad as in the movies. Oh, and nuclear war with Russia. That was kind of a big one. But it was a vague concept, and at some point, we realized it probably wasn't going to happen.
Outside of the occasional "stop, drop and throw yourself under your desk" drill, we weren't concerned about big things in the news. Which is why it was a bit disturbing the other day when I went to wake the 10-year-old girl to get ready for school. Even before I did the old shakearoo -- and I owed her one for waking me the previous day by nearly poking me to death -- I noticed she was squirming and making some unhappy faces.
Deciding to keep my distance, I tried verbally waking her. After some more squirming and face-making, she opened her eyes and looked at me ... then launched into a description of a nightmare involving a man locking her and her schoolmates in the cafeteria, with another man outside, and they wouldn't let them out, and everyone was screaming, and it was scary, and she didn't know what to do or how to get out and didn't know where her mom was and ..."
Dreaming about being trapped in a school shooting is not the way a kid should start her day.
Even if kids don't watch the news -- and ours don't -- there's no way to keep them from finding out about what seems to be an increasing amount of school shootings across the country, especially since December, when a man walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and shot to death 20 children and six adults. There were at least five school shootings across the United States over the following six weeks, each of which got plenty of coverage, thanks to the renewed debate over gun control and better security at schools.
There's no way to avoid kids absorbing all this. Schools openly talk about improving security. Some hold drills and talk about what kids should do if an intruder opens fire on campus. And if they don't, parents will. They talk to each other. This is not necessarily a case of media overload -- though the residents of Newtown might disagree, and with good reason. It's more a matter of adults realizing this isn't someone else's problem, or a condition that's going away anytime soon. It can happen anywhere. Which is why my 4-year-old's preschool has started locking the front door the past couple of months, to be opened only by a worker who recognizes you.
No easy answers
It's been more than three months since Newtown, and 10-year-olds are still having nightmares. I wish there were a way to tell kids it won't happen anymore. But even if there were an answer to all this, political gridlock would probably keep us from enacting it.
The nightmares I had as a kid were about Godzilla attacking the mall or evil spies shooting at me or being tied up in the jungle, about to eaten by cannibals. All were induced by various forms of media and entertainment, of course.
But when I woke up, at least I could reassure myself it was all make-believe.
This generation's kids have to face the possibility of their nightmares coming to life when they are awake. In that respect, no one can say kids have it too good nowadays.