A terribly sad day.Every era has its unlikely but terrifying nightmare scenario that haunts parents, and often their children too. In the wake of the Newtown shooting, of course, it's school safety that's at the forefront of every parent's mind. "I want to weep, cry, and hug my kids," one Babble mommy blogger wrote. As President Obama said in his speech Sunday, "This is our first task—caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged."
Shootings in schools have been going on since at least the twenties, but it's only been since Columbine in 1997 that they've captured America's imagination at large. And even so, growing up in the 80s and 90s, parents and kids were afraid of sexual predators or stranger-danger abductions. Now, any parent with children in a school will be aware of the safety of the buildings and the school's emergency policy. After Newtown, we can't not be. Looking through happy photos of the slain children is just devastating for any parent—reason doesn't come into play.
One thing parents should know is that that "school shootings are very rare," David Finklehor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire told Yahoo! Shine, explaining that the chances were less than one in a million. In 2010, the last year for which there are figures, only 17 children were killed at school by guns, out of a total of 50 million. Moreover, despite the perception that shootings are increasing, they aren't, experts say. "There is no pattern, there is no increase," criminologist James Allen Fox, of Boston's Northeastern University told the Associated Press. The random mass shootings that get the most media attention are the rarest, Fox told the AP. Most people who die of bullet wounds knew the identity of their killer.
Still, "this fear is a little different," said Leslie A. Johnson, an L.A.-based marriage and family therapist who worked for ten years as the head of a crisis response team, called by first responders to work with victims and witnesses of severe trauma. The fear of a school shooting is more powerful and evocative because, "this is really something that is so out of the parents' control. You can't prepare a child. With an abductor you can educate a child."
San Francisco-based mommy blogger Sunny Channel told Shine "I was reading on Facebook that people don't want to send their kids to school today, even though they say that one of the safest places is a school." Chanel said that she wasn't personally afraid of gun violence, but that, as a mother with children around the same ages as the victims, the tragedy was "personal" for her. "I have this mother instinct towards all children," she said. "It touches something in my soul."
"We have unfortunately a cognitive bias towards the most extreme and horrific episodes," Finklehor told Yahoo! Shine. "They tend to stay in our minds."
The result, Finklehor fears, is a "miscalibration of our alarm systems." He says, "We focus on the rare things rather than the more common and preventable dangers." Finklehor says that the most common dangers are the ones parents can do something about—car safety and swimming pool safety.
These odds put it into perspective, but with an emotional issue like this, it's hard for any parent – or anyone – to not want to do something.