In light of the recent tragedy in Colorado, I feel compelled to write about the topic that I am most passionate about reducing: youth violence. The mission I have had for the last 10 years is to reduce violence both directed at youth and committed by youth. Ultimately this specific goal stems from a hope to reduce violence world-wide, across age groups. Children, in my mind, are the only place to start for several important reasons: Firstly, children are still under the direction and supervision of others. Second, children’s behavior has not solidified, they are still shapeable. Third, children have less access to weapons. Fourth, children are still in school where we can access them and disseminate information. Lastly, and most importantly, children are the future, if we don’t stop the violence in them and to them, we will have ever increasing incidents of violence. It is our commitment as adults to protect our children and reducing the violence against them and by them is an important and necessary step toward that end.
I will stay away from commenting on the specific events of Aurora, Colorado as we do not yet know all of the details of the alleged shooter, of the victims, or of the stressors involved. Also, it is too late, this incident is no longer preventable, it has occurred already on a devastating level. We will not know for some amount of time what the clues were prior to this tragedy. Other incidents of violence, however, are preventable and we must take action both swiftly and effectively.
What does youth violence have to do with health and wellness? The list is endless. Watching the tragedies occur on media affects all of us. It is stressful, traumatic and shocking. The aftereffects of a violent episode stay with us for a long time, we become more anxious, hyper-aroused, and depressed when trying to walk through our normal lives following a tragedy. We worry it will happen again. We spend our energy trying to deal with the loss and with the lasting fear. Violence affects our health by increasing defensiveness, prejudice, hate, and individualism. Violence separates us from one another. We want someone to blame, even though we know that blame heals nothing. Violence takes our focus from our own missions and goals; it forces us to think about protecting ourselves rather than growing and thriving. In the very worst cases, violence makes us violent towards ourselves or others.
Prevention is crucial with violence. We know that we often have clues that a person is having violent thoughts or is engaging in violent behaviors. Violence is most often an evolution; it is very rarely a specific and static impulsive event. There is often a practicing or increase, if you will, in violent thoughts and behaviors before an incident occurs. It is our job; in order to keep ourselves, our nation and our world safe to report all concerns of the possibility of violence no matter who or what the concern is. It is a hard job because we don’t like to intrude on other’s lives, we don’t want to become the target after reporting, we don’t want to think about the possibility of something violent occurring with someone we know or love. However, once we have the piece of knowledge that someone is having violent thoughts, plan, desire, behaviors, we must report it. Often a person who is planning a violent incident wants to be noticed, is calling for help or may be in need of someone stopping them because they can’t stop themselves. If we catch the violent thoughts before they become behaviors, the person can get help, support and solutions to prevent a violent incident. As reporters we may never know what we prevented, but we will know that our intention is to keep our world and our children safe and we will be healthier for the action taken.
Over the next few days, I will compile a list of hotlines and post them so that you all will have the phone numbers and can call someone if you suspect there is risk of a violent incident occurring or if you know someone that is headed down a path of violence. I will continue to blog more on this topic of violence starting with a discussion about how to deal in a health way with the trauma that we all experience when there is a tragedy such as the one that occurred in Colorado.