There is no doubt that today is a very sad day for our country, public school systems, and most of all for some parents in Ohio. This morning a very clear and stark truth became a blinding reality: “our son is a killer.” T.J. Lane the young man who is now in custody for shooting 5 fellow students, killing one of them, was just another “normal” kid with normal “parents” yesterday, right? There is no way that we can even begin to truly feel or understand what those parents are feeling right now. Surely questions like: How did this happen? How did our son become like this? Where did we go wrong? What should we have done to prevent this? All of these questions and more are floating in the minds of T.J.’s parents and loved ones.
Time will reveal all the details that we can only speculate about now. And with those details we will be able to make more sense of such a seemingly irrational act of violence. Even though there are many reasons and things that could have led T.J. to an act like this, I’d like to offer parents some helpful reminders of what to do to help keep your kids from becoming what no one would ever want them to be.
1) Love on your kids daily. As much as it can feel and be uncomfortable at times, show appropriate forms of affection and love to your kids. Kids and even teenagers want to feel loved and accepted. Making this part of your daily mission as a parent is paramount in helping prevent your kid from acting out in aggression and violence. A heart-core of unconditional love, value and worth is something that every parent needs to convey to their children. In so doing, you help shape and cultivate a proper sense of respect and value on all human life. So even if you are not a “hugger” get over it and give your kid a hug. Even if your teenager acts like you have the plague, enter into their space. Show that you care!
2) Get positive outside influences. In our culture of working parents, divorce and single-parent homes, it is vitally important to have other outside mentors and coaches for your kids. Places like your local worship centers, community centers and schools can assist you with programs and people who can provide other assistance with influencing your kids. Although I firmly believe there is no replacement for a mother or father’s role in a child’s life, I want to underscore the asset of having good and godly people in your kid’s lives too. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your kids and know who they are hanging out with and where they are going. Take notice of who they are friends with online and through Facebook. Pay attention to the phone records and numbers through their texts on your bill. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to certain types of music, video games and movies. Everything has the potential to influence someone. If it didn’t, why would people spend so much on advertisements in video games, movies, music videos etc?
3) Show proper respect for others and especially authority. Children catch much more than we ever intend to “teach” them. Make sure you have a healthy respect for others and those in positions of authority. Children will not only mimic your behavior, they will adopt it for life with enough exposure. Watch your words, actions and attitudes carefully. Don’t miscommunicate or demonstrate the wrong way to deal with problems. Teach how to handle anger and conflict resolution properly and make sure you follow your own advice.
4) Discipline firmly and consistently. Not only does a parent need to set proper guidelines and boundaries, they must enforce proper discipline when there is an offense. Children really do want to please at first and without discipline they will do as they please later. As a parent you have the awesome and yet difficult challenge of teaching and training your child. Parents will do well to make sure self-control and discipline are part of the teaching and training process for the child. Setting reasonable and yet firm consequences for offenses needs to be part of the discussion you have with your kids on how they interact with you, their siblings and others.
5) Set realistic goals and dreams. I can only imagine that at some point when a kid like T.J. finally makes the decision to go into a school and kill classmates and then even in some cases kill themselves that there has been the death of a dream long before the event. As parents helping your kids set realistic goals and dreams can certainly help as you work with them through the success and even sometimes difficult aspects of failure. Learning to deal with both aspects of dreams is huge in helping your kid become well-adjusted for life’s challenges and disappointments.
6)Pray without ceasing! I would be completely remiss if I did not include praying for your child as a vital and essential part of your role as a parent. Obviously we cannot be with our kids all the time, nor can we know everything about their “private” lives. However, we can pray to our God and Father in heaven who sees and knows all things. As a parent, you may not always be around your kids but you can always be praying for them. And no matter how often they may role their eyes, say “whatever” and ignore you, you can still influence them through your prayer time for them. Get on your knees and fight the good fight!
I know that there are no easy answers or set of “how-to’s” to ensure that our kids won’t become like T.J. But we can definitely take an instance like this and be reminded that none of us want our kids or anyone else’s kids to travel down this path. Let’s be resolved today to do more to be involved in our kids lives, influence our kids well, and invest in the future generation…Remember that as a parent, friend, teacher, leader, mentor or coach what you do or don’t do really does matter! Make it all count!