teenagers and gun violenceSadly, mass shootings and gun violence have become a heartbreaking reality in our country. As with many parents, each tragic incident leaves me with a sick feeling in my stomach. But the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, hit much closer to home. My niece and her husband, as well as my nephew graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and I have family members who are very much part of the Parkland community. I’ve seen firsthand how the school shooting has profoundly impacted them and their friends. And, I pray for peace and strength in their community.

I know many parents of school-aged children struggle with the issue of knowing if their children are safe at school. This concern begs the question, what can a dad do to be a protector of his family? We want to be vigilant and do all we can to protect our families. But we don’t want our children to live in fear as they venture out into the world.

A critical place to start as a protector is to remember we are not in this alone because we have a Heavenly Father who is there to protect our families as promised in scripture:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91, 1-2)

There are many such passages and examples found in the Bible confirming the fact that God is our protector!

Praying with Eyes Wide Open

Does this mean we should simply close our eyes and pray that God will protect our children and not take a more active and vigilant stand in protecting our families? Here’s what the Bible says about being vigilant:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

So the best posture we can take as we protect our families is to prayerfully trust God but vigilantly have our eyes wide open and be on the lookout for those things that would do harm to our children, including bullies, troublemakers, bad influences, bad adults, social media and even certain video games.

What About Parkland?

As dads, we grapple with the best way to talk with our kids about incidents of gun violence. How do we calm our children’s fears and anxieties in the face of massive media coverage? A number of experts offer sound advice.

Get a Handle on Your Emotions

If you’re highly upset as you talk with your kids about a specific incident, chances are, your kids will be highly upset too. Share your feelings with a spouse, friend or other adult first so you can have a more calm, meaningful discussion with your kids. It’s okay to be sad, but if you’re extremely upset, your kids will likely be more frightened and anxious.

“To have these conversations open and honestly you need to take care of yourself as a parent,” shared Kristin Wilson, a licensed professional counselor and clinician (source: nbcnews.com.) “Have your own support system in a spouse or friend or another go-to person, so that when you’re talking to your child you’ve already processed through it.”

Tailor the Message to the Age Group

The conversation you have with your first grader about gun violence will be very different from the talk you have with your teenager. Tailor your message to the maturity level of your child. In general, young children need a brief, straightforward explanation while tweens and teens need more discussion since they are more exposed to the outside world.

According to Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand (source: parents.com), “Prior to age 12, focus on how you as parents will keep them safe. From 12 to 15 or 16, you can talk about the issues in larger society, how this is wrong and immoral to take another’s life and to use guns inappropriately. In older adolescents and young adults, it is important to discuss the social/political and moral issues about gun violence.”

Make it Your Message

Overall, shape the message to your family values, especially when it comes to expressing the truth that we can trust God for our protection. It’s particularly important not to allow media coverage to shape the message for you – and please don’t sugarcoat the truth. Savvy kids can read about incidents in the media, and if you’re not straight with them, they can end up more anxious and distrustful. You can also focus on heroes and helpers – whether they are first responders or brave citizens – to balance the discussion and encourage one of the great Christian virtues, courage.

Let Your Kids Talk – and Listen!

This is probably the best advice of all. Really engage with your children and be an aggressive listener. Getting your kids to open up about their worries and feelings often requires letting them take the lead. Be patient and give them both room and time to talk.

Provide Reassurance, But Don’t Overdo It

As parents, we all face the challenge of answering the question our children are sure to ask: “How could this have happened?” Or the even tougher question, “Will it happen to me?” We often feel like we’re required to provide all the answers, but it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” We don’t know why bad things happen or why someone would want to hurt others.

At the same time, make sure your children know you’re doing everything you can to protect them. Dr. Mayer stresses the importance of making sure your children hear this message, no matter what their age: “That is our primary job as parents, to protect you. We will always keep you safe.”

But safety doesn’t rest solely with parents. Remind your kids that a lot of people – friends, family, teachers, administrators, law enforcement officers – are watching out for them and working hard to make their schools and communities safe. Reassure them, but remember that overdoing it can make some children even more anxious.

The Healer of a Broken World

The Parkland shootings remind us as fathers that we do not live in a world of peace, but a world in pieces. It is in this world full of violence, pain and sadness that God sent us the only source of hope, his Son, Jesus Christ who is the only one who can truly offer healing and restoration. The words of Jesus remind us:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Dan Dolsen is the founder and director of The Fatherhood Project-Building Great Dads. The Fatherhood Project’s mission is to build great dads by equipping them with the tools to lead their families in the roles of provider, protector, partner and preparer. The Fatherhood Project is a Christian ministry and a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation. The Fatherhood Project may be found at www.buildinggreatdads.org .

© 2018 The Fatherhood Project-Building Great Dads. Not to be reproduced or copied without permission of Dan Dolsen. PLEASE SHARE THIS MESSAGE WITH OTHERS! All Bible quotations are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.