Sunday, December 7, 2014

Why ALL Parents Need to Have "The Talk" with Their Children About Guns and Law Enforcement

No one asks to be shot.
No one asks to die.
No one asks to lose their life at the tender age of 12 for playing with a toy gun.
No one asks to be murdered by a child of 12.
No one asks to be shot in the line of duty.
No one asks to serve and protect in a world where you can’t trust a 12 year old not to pick up a gun and fire.

No one asks for any of these things, and yet they're happening. Every. Single. Day. 

There’s a lot being said about the shooting of young Tamir Rice at a playground, where a bystander called 911 because the boy had an airsoft gun in the park. 

undefinedA “toy” gun with no markings to distinguish it from a real firearm. A gun that looked real enough to cause bystanders concern. Even if the individual that called 911 believed it was “probably fake”, there was enough uncertainty in his mind to call emergency services in the first place. 
The operator failed to relay the individual’s belief that the gun may have been a toy to the officers that responded-and I’m not sure it would have made a difference. In a world of school shootings and movie theatre shootings and children of 12 committing abuse and homicide, officers cannot be too careful.

The officer who first saw Rice reported that he was a black male of approximately 20 years of age. There are those who want, badly, to focus on the first part of that description-that he was a black male. The truth is, had he been a white male, that’s what the cop would have said. The important part of this was that the officers responding to the scene didn’t know they were dealing with a child.

I’ve never been able to see what it was that prompted the officer to shoot. Not because I’m looking for a specific viewpoint, but because the video is bad and my eyes suck. I can’t tell if Rice pointed the gun toward the officer. I can’t tell if he tried to lay it down. What I do know is the police treated a 12 year old with a gun as an armed and dangerous criminal.

While I would like to say the cops clearly overreacted, the truth is, the society we live in has its share of dangerous juvenile offenders. It’s entirely possible the officers on the scene believed Rice had a real weapon and had turned to fire at them, and acted accordingly. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m certainly not saying the twelve year old brought it upon itself, which seems to be the default position of anyone not screaming “murderer” at these cops.

The ending of this story could have been much, much different if the officers had spent just a little more time assessing the scene. However, had Rice’s weapon been a real one, as the police believed at the time, the story could have had another ending.We could have been adding another name to the list of names to the 20,000 officers on the memorial to those who died in the line of duty.

There are a lot of numbers rolling around, but here’s one I haven’t seen shared with the media yet. 
As of December 2nd, 107 officers had died in the line of duty in 2014. This doesn’t take into account officers killed while off duty, and it doesn’t tally injuries received while on duty. If an officer is shot and ends up in intensive care, if a corrections officer is badly beaten by an inmate and is sent to the hospital, those numbers aren’t counted. Bruises, broken ribs, broken jaws. Those numbers aren’t counted.There's a document stating that more than 50,000 assaults on officers occurred during 2014, and even the people who published the report admitted those numbers were woefully under reported. According to the DA in San Bernadino county, there were 23,000 assaults on officers in that region alone.

Here’s another number for you. 70%. That’s the increase in the number of officers killed by firearms during 2014. 70% more officers were shot and killed in the line of duty this year than last year.

Our personal life experiences shape the way we look at situations. As someone with family and friends in law enforcement, I understand only too well the sick clenching in the gut that comes when you hear an officer is attacked. When a prison your friend works at makes the news, and all you can do is hope and pray that they weren’t among the injured.

I understand the caution and yes, the fear that officers and their families exercise and feel every moment of every day, wondering if they’re going to become victims themselves-not because of the color of their skin, but because of the color of their uniform.

I can’t say I understand or can wrap my head around the shooting of Tamir Rice, but I can see how it happened.

I’m a mother. My oldest son is 13, a year older than Rice, and the thought of losing him due to a misunderstanding and bad circumstances breaks my heart. I know, however, that the best thing I can do to keep my kids safe is to strike back at the many, many things that led to Tamir Rice being in the situation he was in the first place.

And so, I will teach my children gun safety. I will teach them that toy guns should look like toy guns, and to leave the ones that do not on the shelf. I will teach them that BB guns and air guns should only be used under the close supervision of an adult, and should be handled with the same respect you would show a real gun.

I will teach them that guns are not toys the way that race cars and baseballs are toys, and there are deadly consequences for treating them that way. I will teach them that if a police officer asks them to do something, they should obey. Immediately. Silently. There will be time for questions and explanations when the situation is calm.

And I will ask the toy companies to help me in this. Because they are not blameless. By manufacturing toy guns that look like real guns, they are helping to put our children in harm’s way.

Because an officer cannot stand in front of a twelve year old holding a gun and assume that the gun, and the child, are harmless. I wish they could, but they can’t. Law enforcement will continue to be cautious, sometimes overly so.

We as parents MUST take the responsibility to ensure that our kids stay safe.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How to Help a Depressed Teen

A quick note to readers: This post reflects my experiences with depression, and may not be applicable to every case. If you feel your teen is in immediate danger of committing suicide, contact law enforcement or your health care provider and let them know.  

Depression IS a disease, and like any disease, it claims its due. The information in this article is to help parents prevent teen suicide. Please understand, however, that sometimes there really was nothing more you could have done. If you are the parent of a teen who has committed suicide, it doesn't mean you have failed-as a parent, and as a person. I share these thoughts with you in the hope that they, and your personal experiences, will help you reach out to others in your community.
Earlier this year, a friend of mine lost his nineteen year old son to depression and suicide.

I look at my children, now entering those difficult teenage years, and like so many parents, I am afraid. I am afraid of what these years are going to bring us. No one should ever have to bury a child. I can only imagine that family’s pain and loss.

I can, however, understand, intimately, the pain his son felt in those final days before he took his own life. Depression has been an enemy I have fought for what feels like my whole life, and it’s an enemy that too few people ever truly understand. Because it’s sneaky. Like diabetes, it’s chronic-some days will be better than others, but you’re never truly “cured”. It’s always sitting in the wings, waiting. Perched to pounce the minute you make a mistake, or have a bad day, or start feeling overwhelmed.

I can’t bring the Fiorellas’ son back, although I desperately wish that I could. I wish that I could look that young man in the face and be able to tell him, I understand. I’ve been there. I know this road you’re walking.

You’re right-you’re never going to get off this road. You’re never going to be the carefree person that you want to be. You’re never going to see life through the same lenses your friends do, no matter how hard you try.

But if you’re willing to fight, if you’re willing to reach out, it can get better.

Because I can’t do that, I want to share the lessons I’ve learned through a lifetime of depression with other parents like Sam. Like myself. Parents who watch their teens grow and wonder what they’re going to do if the black spectre of depression comes to claim them. Parents of teens with depression who feel helpless to bring their children out of the hell they’ve made their home.

Parents, you CAN help. But before you can help, you need to understand.

Understand that your child needs you to listen, not talk. As parents, we want to share our life experiences with our children. We hope through our experiences, they’ll be spared from learning some lessons the hard way. But your child with depression isn’t walking the same road you did. They need to be able to share THEIR road with YOU.

Understand that your child needs to be freed from your expectations for them. People with depression believe one of two things: Failure is inevitable, or failure is unacceptable. Either way, they feel shoehorned into a position where they have no right to be human. To try new things. To make mistakes. To them, criticism and encouragement are fatal in equal measure, because both make them feel as though they have failed in being themselves.

Understand that right now, they are incapable of being happy. It’s not that they’re choosing to be morose and dramatic. It’s not that they’re choosing to be critical or miserable or apathetic. Their minds are choosing it for them. The person who is severely depressed feels apathetic on their best days and like they’re going to fall apart on their worst. Which is why they need you to…

Understand that their feelings need to be validated. It’s too easy to look at their lives and think, “What do you have to be depressed about? You’re a kid. This is the best time of your life!” They know that. They understand, through the message you send, that they are expected to be happy and carefree. And so that’s the face they put on, for your benefit, for their friends, for their teachers. Then they leave you swinging in the wind when they explode, having bottled their feelings up to the point where they literally cannot take it anymore. 

If your child is angry, let them be angry, even if what they’re angry about seems ridiculous to you. (I once sat and cried for an hour because I couldn’t get a sweater to stay on a hanger.) If they are sad, let them be sad.

Understand that depression is as insidious as cancer…but no one judges a cancer patient for getting chemo. Depression, and other mental illnesses, still carry too much stigma. For a period of time in my twenties, I was on antidepressants following a major breakdown. I told no one I was going to the doctor, didn’t even tell my husband I was on antidepressants until months later. 

It was too embarrassing to admit that I needed help to get through the day. I was humiliated that I was carrying so many fewer burdens than people I knew, and I still couldn’t handle it. People with depression are embarrassed and scared to ask for help. They need you to encourage them to seek medical care.

Understand that people with depression feel isolated. They feel like no one understands them. Watch out for teens who appear to be “good listeners”, always listening to their friends and family and sharing little about their own lives. Beware if it seems as though your teen is always deflecting the conversation away from themselves. It may not be because they’re shy, or modest. It may be because they don’t see the point. No one is going to care anyway.

Understand that “I don’t understand what’s wrong with you!” is the worst thing you can say to a teen with depression. To anyone with depression.  Especially when it’s followed up with bits of parental wisdom like, “You’re a kid! What do you have to worry about?” Or, “You have a roof over your head, food on your plate. You have a thousand dollar computer. You have everything!” This will only push them away.

Understand that teens with depression need to take things day to day-sometimes minute by minute. Long term planning may literally be too much for them. Big projects are overwhelming-to this day I still have to break my to-do lists into teeny tiny micropieces that don’t take more than a few minutes each, then write them down so I can check them off in order to feel like I’m accomplishing something, even if that something barely scratches the surface.

The severely depressed may need help walking through their tasks one at a time, and learning that what they’re doing right then is the only thing they need to think about. Multi-step instructions like get out of bed, take a shower, eat breakfast, brush your teeth and get on the bus may seem overwhelming. Cleaning their entire room may literally be more than they can handle. (Especially if it looks anything like mine used to.)

Be willing to be flexible. Let chores wait until another day if they have a lot of homework. Help them with tasks that are usually their responsibility if you see them struggling. I promise you, they need the helping hand more than they need the reminder of what their responsibilities are.

Understand that your teen has to know they can come to you. Pushing someone with depression to talk about their depression leaves them feeling trapped. Not pushing them, on the other hand, can leave them feeling like you don’t really care. It’s a lose-lose situation….but it doesn’t have to be.

If you have a teen who suffers from depression, it’s up to you to open the door. Spend time with them alone, in a low stress environment. Encourage non-specific conversation about their lives, and ask them questions that make them know they’re the center of your attention. I know it’s almost instinctive, as parents, to remind teens that the world doesn’t revolve around them, but the teen with depression sometimes needs to feel like it does. “What do you want?” is a big one-often people who are living with depression are too wrapped up in day to day survival to worry about the future.

It can be hard, at times, to feel like they have one.