Turn Off The TV!

We’re not helpless. Parents can turn off the TV and talk to their kids. We can send more shrinks to schools.

That advice emerged Monday as U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Steve Marans, a Yale psychiatry professor, met in New Haven in response to Friday’s mass shooting in Newtown.

Marans called on the public to “turn helplessness and loss of control into a platform of action” to help kids and families exposed to violence.

Friday’s “unthinkable” tragedy—in which a gunman killed 20 young schoolchildren and six adults as well as himself—has been “overwhelming for all of us,” DeLauro said. So she convened the event Monday morning at the Child Study Center on South Frontage Road. She asked Marans, a professor at the Yale Child Study Center, to share advice on how to talk to kids about violence. Marans and his staff, who for years have worked alongside New Haven cops to help children exposed to violence, have been traveling to Newtown since the shooting to work with children there.

First, Marans said, an adult needs to “take care of oneself.”

That starts with “turning off the TV,” he said.

“It’s understandable why people want to watch a lot of TV,” Marans observed, but “our tendency to watch the same scenes over and over” can be unhealthy. “Dwelling on the thoughts and feelings that are stirred up by such a horrific event only keeps us activated at a biologic and physiological level. It fuels the nonstop thinking about the events and the helplessness.”

He called it the “live wire phenomenon.”

“If you grab hold of the live wire, you can’t let go,” he said. Exposure to too many “horrifying images and ideas locks us in a way we can’t free ourselves from.”

“Don’t get stuck,” Marans advised.

“The constant flood of TV news” is “not helpful” for kids either, he said. Instead of sitting glued to the screen, “people need to engage in their routines of daily life and they need to be with each other.”

Before talking to kids, adults need to talk to come to terms with their feelings, Marans advised. A tragedy like this one opens a “Pandora’s Box” of feelings, including terror and fear. Adults need to “think through whether the feelings of terror and fear are appropriate now.”

“There’s nothing that can take away from what happened,” Marans said. But “now the question is, is the threat that so many around the country can be feeling—is it immediate? And does it interfere with our ability to be there for our kids?

Second, Marans said, when approaching kids, start with what they know. A good way to broach the subject, Marans said, is to ask “What were kids talking about today in relation to the shootings?” or “Did it come up in school today?”

Ask the child what he or she knows about what happened. Correct any information that’s inaccurate. For example: Not all people with psychiatric illnesses commit mass shootings. And mass shootings are “extremely unusual.”

Third, he said, ask kids what their thoughts are. Words are “tools of mastery.” Letting kids articulate their feelings helps them master what they’re doing.

What if a kid asks, “Am I safe?”

It’s not enough to say that statistically, your child is unlikely to suffer a tragedy like the one in Newtown, Marans said. It’s important to acknowledge that the child’s feelings are “understandable” and normal. And then remind them of “all the things that are reliable and safe.” In times of tragedy, it’s especially important to continue routines, he said.

Some kids won’t want to talk about what happened, Marans added. They could be focused on their immediate world, which is fine, he said. Parents shouldn’t force kids to talk. But if they don’t want to, he advised, “keep your eyes open for signs of distress.” Those include stomachaches, headaches, trouble sleeping or eating. If you notice changes in your kids’ behavior, open the door for conversation with comments like, “I notice you’ve been having a tougher time than usual getting ready for school.”

Marans said he hopes Newtown tragedy serves to ignite a national conversation about the everyday trauma kids face. “Some kids are exposed to violence on a daily basis,” in their homes or communities. “Their experience of violence has gone unrecognized and untreated” for too long, he said.

Echoing President Obama’s remarks at a Sunday night vigil, Marans asked, “Are we doing enough?” The answer is no, he said.

“We can do nothing about what has happened on Friday. We can do something ... to help children, families and adults exposed to violence.”

DeLauro: Shrinks, Not Fortresses

Melissa Bailey PhotoDeLauro agreed.

“We have the responsibility to take a course of action,” she said.

DeLauro said there’s been plenty of discussion about gun control. She supports reviving the expired national ban on the sale of assault rifles, which included a ban on high-capacity gun magazines. She said the discussion about school security has its place.

But “rather than turning our schools into fortresses,” she said, schools should address a greater need—an absence of trained mental health professionals to help kids exposed to trauma.

“We ought to have mental health professionals in all of our schools,” she said.

Marans said when childhood trauma isn’t addressed, it snowballs into health care costs and loss of productivity due to incarceration down the road. He said groups like the Yale Child Study Center have found solutions that work.

“We have interventions that can turn kids’ and families’ lives around,” he said. “It’s like having discovered penicillin and not having it available.” He called for more training of school and mental health professionals in specific post-trauma interventions and more funding of research into how to implement the strategies.

Marans, president of the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, sat on a national task force on the topic assembled by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The group came up with 56 recommendations— read them here.

“We have ways of responding to what happened in Newtown,” Marans said, and “to the violence that occurs every day. It’s time to make a decision on whether we’re going to deploy them in the way that they’re needed.”

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posted by: Christopher Schaefer on December 17, 2012  6:03pm

“If you DON’T want to propagate more mass murders…Don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photographs of the killer. Don’t make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can NOT to make the body count the lead story and NOT to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize this story to the affected community—and as boring as possible in every other market. “ And don’t invite politicians to the memorial services, don’t ask politicians to comment, and don’t ask politicians to convene publicized “events” to discuss “solutions”. http://youtu.be/PezlFNTGWv4

posted by: Edward_H on December 17, 2012  8:32pm

“Turn Off The TV!”

A good idea, especially when DeLauro is on!

Most of the NHI readership is rabidly anti Fox news. Why choose them to screen grab?

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on December 17, 2012  11:40pm

And if the elected representative says and does nothing, the same chronic critics would respond in the same fashion.

Now the issue, why have the last two generations of young Americans been witness to or directly involved now in Connecticut in slaughters of scores of innocent Americans by mentally ill people with firearms? Can it be fixed? Is this the critical event that will finally bring a majority of the population to action, and make their elected representatives, local, state and federal, create and put into law solutions to stop those that should not be in possession of weapons that are designed to kill many people a thing of the past.

I think we will have to rely on the Women of America to step in again, as they have done in recent history with drunk driving deaths, and use their inherent emotional superiority, and numbers, to put common sense solutions in place to save the lives of many more people and especially children. I can only hope and pray this is what happens as I am a man, and understand it is the men who invented the firearm. And the emotional attachment to weapons that are excessive in a real world firefight. Why? Because they know they can’t shoot, so they believe that if they ever have to get in an actual gunfight they will win by just shooting a lot of bullets. Oh, yeah, that threat of such an event happening in any of their lifetimes will almost never happen to them, as most have already retreated to suburban communities. There is no real need for most of these over armed people to even have these arsenals because the real reason is delusion, fear, insecurity, and their own unique forms of mental illness.Most are cowards that have led their lives avoiding any thing that would be a risk to their life for someone else, or a cause of real value . And I apologozetp thse that walk the walk, combat veterans, first responders, and the women of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
    They are the real McCoy, and they did not need an arsenal of weapons to prove it.

posted by: magistermatt on December 18, 2012  9:01am

It’s of interest to me that many are calling for more mental health professionals in schools. Most schools, including elementary schools have traditionally had these professionals in school psychologists and social workers. However, given the recent economic climate, these are some of the first positions at schools to be considered of less importance. In the school where I work (a New Haven suburb), we went from a full time psychologist and social worker last year, to part time positions for both this year and into the conceivable future. This is when it was plain to all staff and many families that they the two full time members could not even address all the issues we had.

posted by: jessicab on December 20, 2012  1:33pm

please.  take the kids out of school!  12 years of school for what?  I ask myself that often. i could have absorbed all the knowledge i retained in school in about four years.  and then some.  i’m sorry a moron was allowed to murder people.  and tv does waste too much time and is full of violence.  the argument that the guy should not be portrayed as an antihero on tv makes no sense to me at all.  if murder and death looks good to anyone i do not understand!  the guy is dead.  that is complete misery.  that is exactly the kind of garbage the military promotes.  senseless murders, and those guys are practically heroes.  many are well mannered family people, but think of what they are trained to do.  and think of war in itself..  who dies?  wealthy people who have control?  apparently not.  off topic.  but i cant stand this world anymore and what people accept and how it is dealt with.  pray for peace and for god to end all war.  forgive, forget, let people move on and feel safe. pray for him to send in real angels.