She had the plans.
She had the weapons.
And judging by her journal, she had the motivation to commit the biggest school shooting since Columbine.
Luckily someone stepped in and notified the authorities, neutralizing the threat and avoiding our next massacre.
I can’t help but recall of the way I felt back in 2000 when the TEEN TRUTH film project was first conceived. After the Columbine shooting, we sensed that teens were under pressure and that no one was giving them a voice to release it. 17 years later, not much has changed.
Teens still face social pressures, and now thanks to social media they come 24 hours a day.
Teens still deal with personal struggles, only now doctored pictures on Instagram or SnapChat make them feel inadequate.
Teens still need a way to relieve their pressures, but now after-school programming and counseling services are on the chopping block with the federal government.
What can an educator do? We work so hard every day to inspire and motivate our students, yet the avalanche of teen pressures continues to grow.
Stay vigilant. The story from Maryland highlights this. Research shows that many school shootings, suicides, and other tragic events happen during the spring semester. Why? Possibly because the pressures of the school year have built up. The winter weather has warmed, and more activity is taking place both socially and emotionally. So, we must stay vigilant during these times.
Many clients approach TEEN TRUTH for school assembly programs wondering if it might be better to “wait till the fall.” Our advice: heck no. Do it now! We don’t know what might be bubbling on your campus, and TEEN TRUTH might be the perfect catalyst to relieve that pressure.
NORMALIZE THE PRESSURE
As a therapist, I just had a client tell me the other day that she “doesn’t understand how other people do it — Balance everything in their lives.” How many of your students feel this way, and how can we combat that overwhelming feeling? We have to normalize these pressures. We have to let students (and adults) know that they are not alone. That when we are honest about how we feel certain things start to open up both emotionally and socially. Self-disclosure in my therapy and in work with students is key in getting others to realize that they are not out of the norm for feeling the way that they do. In the RISING UP: Coaching Program curriculum we constantly put students into these conversations with caring mentors who can offer insight.
EMPOWER STUDENT VOICE
This is our mantra at TEEN TRUTH. We know from our Student Ownership M.A.P. that your Message, your Activities, and your People are paramount in building a strong, connected campus culture. We have learned through our leadership summits and school culture workshops that empowering student and staff voice as it relates to campus problems is a game changer.
When students and staff come together to discuss social-emotional issues on campus and then co-develop solutions, the likelihood of success with our implementation plans rockets up! And that is because we have buy-in. If your student council kids are going to create an activity, it will probably land really well with their friends, but how will it land with the other groups on campus? But if we include the “gang member” or the “mean girl” or the “outcast” in the conversation, suddenly they have ownership in the process. That’s when they show up, their friends show up, more people get involved, and suddenly you’ve reached the entire school. To accomplish this, consider hosting yearly or bi-yearly leadership summits. I am constantly shocked when I ask admins at a conference how many of them run leadership summits on campus, and only 2 of them raise their hand! Whether you bring in a company like TEEN TRUTH to run your summits, or do it yourself (see my blog on effective leadership summits HERE) these need to be happening.
What happened in Maryland could happen at your school tomorrow. Her parents intervened to save her, and it saved countless lives. Who will intervene to save your school? Stay vigilant, normalize those pressures, empower student voice, and I believe that your school will be a safer, happier place.
If you need help empowering student voice on campus, contact us today. Our school assemblies, leadership summits, and SEL curriculum have proven to be a comprehensive approach to building school culture and empowering student voice.
In gratitude for the work you do,
JC Pohl, LMFT-A
President & CEO | TEEN TRUTH