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‘What we’ve seen is that it can happen and does happen anywhere’ | #schoolsaftey

Parents share their fears about their children being caught up in gun violence. (Image: Getty; illustration by Katie Martin for Yahoo)

“Where would I hide or how would I get out?” These are the questions that Tess thinks about constantly, especially when she goes places with her two young daughters. She doesn’t like to take her kids into any big box stores because it feels too risky. There’s always the chance someone could walk in with a gun and start shooting, turning her mundane family errand into another tragic national headline with deadly consequences.

Many parents can relate to Tess’s anxiety over the increased levels of gun violence in the United States. There have already been more than 325 mass shootings this year according to The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that uses police reports, news coverage and other public sources to provide near-real time data about gun violence in the United States. Data from the Centers for Disease and Prevention also names firearms as the leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens, while research has found that the risk of gun violence is significantly higher for Black and Hispanic children.

From everyday events like dropping kids off at school, shopping at the mall and waiting in a doctor’s office to large, celebratory occasions like a Fourth of July parade or Lunar New Year gathering, every public outing can feel fraught for families. For some parents, the persistent threat of random gun violence is creating constant anxiety and changing the decisions they make.

For Tess — who, along with the other moms interviewed for this article, asked to not include her last name — it’s changed her thinking about school. “Rather than having her enter kindergarten at her local public school, we’re keeping her at her current school, which is a preschool but offers kindergarten only, so we’re keeping her there with just kind of with a question mark for next year because we don’t know what we’re going to do. We can’t afford a lot of options, but we’re really worried about public school,” Tess tells Yahoo Life. The shooting at the private Covenant school in Nashville was a reminder that no school is fully protected, but Tess thinks the risk is lower in a private setting. She also doesn’t want her daughter to have to go through the mandatory active shooter drills that take place in the public schools.

The threat of gun violence is also one of the main reasons why Tess no longer works in the public schools. She used to work in the schools as a speech therapist, but now she is an independent contractor. “Initially my reasoning for changing jobs was that I had a baby and needed a more flexible schedule, but part of the reason I’m not going back is because of fear about gun violence,” she says.

Katherine also has a 5-year-old. She is scared every time she drops her child off at his Jewish preschool because the growing antisemitism in the community compounds her anxiety. “We all have that ‘it’s not going to happen here’ mentality,” she tells Yahoo Life. “But what we’ve seen is that it can happen and does happen anywhere, and that really does make me stop and consider all the things I’d like to take my child to.” Whether it’s the grocery store or a big box store, Katherine always notes back exits and has an escape plan. She also believes the risk isn’t even worth going some places like the movie theater, and she always feels nervous when her son is playing T-ball because the field and park feel too exposed.

“There’s a bunch of things that I get fearful about that could happen to my child — a lot of them are preventable — but there is something about this one [fear of gun violence] that makes you feel as a parent really helpless,” Katherine says. “So I’m not sure what to do about that anxiety, because if nowhere is really safe, and you don’t know when a place is going to not be safe, then how do you not have that in the back of your mind? Am I not being a responsible parent if I don’t have that in the back of my mind?”

Carrying this fear has made Katherine question if America is really the best place to raise her child, but she doesn’t want to leave. She’s a locally elected official, and she got into policy to help people, but she’s afraid that staying and serving her constituents is not the best choice for her son. She is also afraid that she or her son could be targeted because she’s a liberal, Democratic, Jewish official.

Maggie, a mom of three kids aged 10, 7 and 4, understands how individual circumstances can compound the fear of gun violence. She lives in a state with permitless carry, and the city she lives in has seen a recent surge in violent crime. “Living [here] specifically, mass shootings aren’t even my biggest concern. I’ve had neighbors shot at in their driveways,” Maggie tells Yahoo Life.

Between the fear of mass shootings and the local increase in violent crime, Maggie is worried when she takes her kids anywhere, and she feels uneasy taking her kids out after dark or to any large public gathering, sporting event or concert.

“My anxiety around school has increased since Covenant specifically because [my kids] go to a private school,” she adds. After the March shooting, her kids’ school made the decision to redirect the funds it was planning to use to update some of the classrooms to strengthening its security measures, including the installation of bullet-proof glass. These improvements and the school’s lockdown protocols and armed guards make Maggie feel the school is doing everything it can to keep kids safe.

But it still doesn’t alleviate the constant anxiety Maggie feels. “You don’t want to stop living your life and go in quarantine mode again like the pandemic,” she tells Yahoo Life. “But it’s hard to downplay that anxiety while still being aware of your surroundings and not frighten your children.”

How can parents work through these fears? “When we think about how anxiety gets passed through from parents to child, we know that parents being able to manage their own anxiety helps their children to function best and be resilient to be able to cope with stressors and to work through difficult events,” Tori Cordiano, a clinical child psychologist, tells Yahoo Life. “Part of that is being proactive in terms of how you might handle a situation.”

Cordiano suggests that parents try to have a plan in place, especially with older kids. For example, if visiting an amusement park with teen or tween-age children, decide beforehand how to connect with them during the day, what kinds of freedoms to give them and what time to arrive and leave. If visiting with younger children, she suggests thinking through the plan of the day in detail.

She also encourages people who are parenting with a partner to talk through their anxieties and plans. If a parent doesn’t have a partner, she suggests finding another trusted adult. “Where parents often turn, which can be counter-indicative, is online parent forums, like Facebook groups, but these places often elevate concerns without good tools for handling them,” Cordiano tells Yahoo Life.

Ultimately, Cordiano hopes that parents remember that, as people, they deserve support for managing their anxiety. If that anxiety becomes severe, occurs frequently and is impacting daily function — such as keeping them from outings they’d otherwise look forward to — then it’s time to seek professional support.

While gun violence feels more pronounced for many parents these days, Cordiano hopes parents remember that historically there have always been periods with specific issues that parents are more worried about.

As a government official, Katherine sees gun violence as one of the main issues of our time. She hopes parents, citizens and legislators can work together to find a solution. “Our partisanship in America right now is really keeping us from looking at the facts and really trying to come to a solution for our kids, for our nation in general,” she says. “We are the only nation that sees this [level of gun violence], and we’re not the only nation in the world that can own guns. I think we need to take a look at what are other countries are doing differently. To say that this is not preventable is absurd.”

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