Olathe & Southwest Joco

Active shooter drills: How much is too much for our children?

Active-shooter training, like this one in Independence, can shake up kids.
Active-shooter training, like this one in Independence, can shake up kids.

A new parenting predicament has me wondering how much preparation for potential disaster is too much for kids.

It all started when my two tween daughters came home from middle school with completely different experiences of the same lockdown drill. It happened at the same precise moment and only several yards away from each other, but you’d never know it. This routine school lockdown was responsible for yet another interesting car ride home, dinner topic discussion and pre- and post-bedtime talk.

Typically, when I pick my girls up from school, they immediately mention the highlights or lowlights of their day. Then of course, they locate their cell phones and try to ignore me for the rest of the evening. This day, it was impossible for them to tune me out. I needed details to create a concrete plan for parenting.

That afternoon, due to after-school activities, I made two trips to the school for pickup. Luckily, it gave me the one-on-one time required to get adequate details from each child. One of my daughters was hardly fazed at all; the other was dealing with what could be considered one of her most traumatic experiences thus far.

My first pickup set off a barrage of questions. Even before she could close the door, she was a quarter of the way into her story. Her teacher took the routine active-shooter lock-down drill very seriously. In fact, her reenactment skills were so convincing she had students believing it was no longer a drill, but the real deal.

According to my kid, some of them were trembling, in tears, while clinging onto their belongings and cowering in the corner. Thankfully, this was only a drill, but this episode may have lasting marks on my girl.

After administering mom hugs and assuring my daughter that it was necessary for her teacher and the kids to take each drill seriously, a nagging question followed me the remainder of the day.

What is too much?

Well, let’s look at the research. Hmm. There isn’t any because active-school-shooters wasn’t even in our vocabulary when you and I were in middle school. In the last few years there have been more than enough children experiencing the real horror, instead of a drill. But there hasn’t been enough time to collect factual evidence to reveal if the teachers/schools/districts/parents are effectively preparing our youth for these disasters or leaving irreparable damage.

So I considered comparable occurrences in history. Tornado drills? No. Fire drills…nope. The closest drill to the active-shooter would have to be in the 1950s when atomic bomb drills were common.

In 1951, President Harry S. Truman’s Federal Civil Defense Administration created a program that required children at school to learn about protecting themselves. The FCDA even made an educational short film, to prepare U.S. children for the worst. A cute, animated turtle, named Bert, hosted this. This required school film was accompanied by a comic book.

Is playing down the severity of potential disasters best for children, or do they need to exit the sparkly bubble shielding their innocence and grasp the real world? Every child differs in how they process and react to information.

I don’t know the answer, and that’s what bothering me. I’d like some clear research to point me in the right direction, but this is new territory for us all. We just have to pray we know our kids and hope we know what’s best for them.

As for my other daughter’s experience with the same drill, her classmates huddled in the corner of their room as instructed, but she showed no apparent fear. When asked about her experience with the drill, she said the focus was on the person who passed gas. “We couldn’t stop laughing,” she said. Middle-schoolers are such a treasure.

After listening to my girls and thinking about their drills for days, I’ve decided which drill I would have preferred to be in. I think I’d rather have been in the stinky huddle.

Stacey Hatton prays no more children are harmed by such unnecessary acts of violence. She can be reached at laughingwithkids@yahoo.com.