Are the Children OK? No. Let’s stop teaching K-12 Kids to be Helpless

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for children across the USA, and the leading cause of death for Colorado school children. Throughout the world the statistics vary, yet what remains the same across the board are two things: (a) children are dying by their own hands and (b) human rights extended to children has been proven prevent the spread of helplessness that leads to self-harm, self-injury, and suicidal actions.

I see three opportunities to change this trend right away.

  1. BULLYING IN SCHOOLS:

    Children are not allowed to fight back against violent schoolyard bullies. They are supposed to find an adult to help them. If they do fight back, they are often “charged” more harshly than their attacker.

    How is a child supposed to reliably know how to find an adult when there are 125 to 2 (child to adult) ratios on most school yards? Even in average classrooms there are 30 to 1 (student to teacher) ratios. Question - could you keep that many kids safe 100% of the time? Classroom volunteerism has become nearly nonexistent among the working parents and grandparents of today, which isolates students and teachers more than ever from outside help.

    Why can’t kids fight back? In adult life there are multiple laws that support a person’s right to self-defend. In fact, we adults can kill another human being with impunity if we can prove self-defense, regardless of location in city, state, or country. I feel that disallowing children to defend themselves is a criminal act against them.

    Consider - the Knock Out “Game” still thrives in middle-school and up. I have personally advocated on behalf of two different families in the past year. After their children were assaulted in school, and then charged with misbehavior as a result of their self-defense reactions ~ one child became hyper-vigilant in watching out for himself and his friends and thus ignoring the passivity response advised by the school admin. Another’s parents (their child suffering with a TBI as a result of the bullying) were threatened with legal action by the school district because they refused to bring their child back to school without assurance that such an attack would never happen again. Even after long advocacy meetings, both victims were made to leave both schools - while their attackers were allowed to stay. I can’t imagine that these are the only two instances in one year… can you?

    When we make rules disallowing children to defend themselves at school, we are in essence saying “there is nothing you can do to make yourself safe from an attacker,” and “if you are attacked and defend yourself in like manner, we will not support you or your parents.”

  2. ARMED ASSAILANT DRILLS:


    Did you know??? Kids are not universally allowed to run away in school active shooter drills. Though this practice is slowly changing but at present American schools routinely employ trauma-inducing non-evidence based armed assailant drills. Even the best of the best, I Love You Guys, is not good by any means.

    Just out of curiosity, how would we adults respond if, during a drill, they were made to wait patiently in a closet or under their workplace desk while police in full riot gear conducted a simulated armed assailant situation? Would we be inconvenienced or traumatized? Consider that these drills frequently exceed an hour. Know that teachers and staff are not allowed to tell the kids whether it’s a drill or reality. Sometimes the teachers don’t even know themselves. Keep in mind that there are no bathroom breaks during an armed assailant lock-down drill. Teachers are not allowed to use the school communication system. How would an adult feel about relieving themselves, vomiting, or changing their tampons in a 5 gallon bucket filled with cat litter while huddling in a small space with 30 of their coworkers? I would freaking hate that. Yet, this what children are experiencing on a regular basis during unannounced shooter drills all over the USA.

  3. STUDENTS AS PEER SUPPORT WORKERS:

    Children are recruited to help, but not to advise. Sources of Strength is an amazing peer-support program that helps children to identify, report, and sometimes manage social crises in school.

    It is VERY important that we persistently speak on behalf of children, as they are currently being employed as peer-supporters at age 12 and up in USA schools . They are however, not being widely consulted on policies needed to best handle bullying and other crisis situations.  

    School children hear "you should kill yourself" several times per week from other kids at school - as reported by several kids and therapists who I've interviewed. They have asked - in public meetings - to NOT be transported from school to hospital in handcuffs, but that request has been disregarded because dignified transport is too expensive. In fact, they have been told that law enforcement transport is their only option - which has led to a dangerous situation in my county where kids transport one another during crises. 

We are teaching children to take responsibility for themselves and one another, while simultaneously denying them any real personal power to protect themselves. What is the long term outcome of a glaring contraction such as this? We do not know. But, we can guess, as Learned Helplessness is a well researched topic.

In this age of shock and trauma, we have got to start treating children as fully actuated human beings. We have to listen to them and honor their observations, their wisdom, and their lived experience.

We have to employ the evidence, that positive education works to eliminate depression, anxiety, and trauma. We have to use game theory that shows which games interrupt the development of PTSD and which build community rather than break it down.

Come on people. Let’s get with the kids’ program and stop Northanger Abby-ing these children. They aren’t going to stop playing video games any more than Austen’s characters were going to stop reading novels.

Let’s stop insisting that we have the answers to their problems and ask them what they think will help.