The parents are shocked. They never imagined that their son would be capable of doing such a horrendous thing.
After reading this in the German magazine “Der Spiegel” I cannot get it out of my mind. Of course, no parent ever imagines that their child goes out and kills others, and I am no exception. Still I worry. Our son is happy, friendly and plays tennis – not much unlike the 17-year-old who caused a wave of shock and disbelief. On March 11, 2009, Tim went to his former school with a pistol and killed 9 students, 3 teachers, and 3 additional adults before killing himself.
I have read about school shootings before, but never has anything like that happened so close to where we are stationed here in Germany. Now I know that school shootings are not events you read about in the newspaper before you go and fold the laundry.
Tim comes from a Christian family, I heard a pastor say on the radio, and Tim will receive a Christian burial without any media coverage. I cannot imagine the mental anguish that Tim’s parents, sister and grandparents feel. The parents and grandparents have apologized for Tim’s actions, and yet they are forever searching for answers.
What have they done wrong? Could they have prevented the shootings? Why have they failed their child?
I know I make mistakes in parenting. I know I fail my child, not consciously, not intentionally, but it happens. What must I do now to prevent my own son from ending up on the wrong path?
The pastor had some answers. He said that parents must make sure that their child receives unconditional love, just as God loves every one of us. Children should not have to earn love from their parents. No matter what grades the child brings home, no matter if the child disobeys, no matter if the child is in real trouble: each child must know that their home is a safe haven, where they receive love and encouragement.
This does not mean that children should not be taught boundaries. We all must learn to live within society’s rules. In addition, the pastor stressed that parents must talk with their children. Talk about their feelings, their wishes, their troubles and ambitions. We must know what is going on in their lives, so we can reach out and guide them.
Well, we do that in our home, I thought, until I focused on our daily conversations. Yes, we talk a lot during the day, but what are we talking about?
Me: Did you pack your lunch, please put on your play pants, make sure you’re back for dinner, did you practice your spelling words, what did you play with Katie today, please turn off the TV and clean up your room.
Child: Can I go and play outside, where are my favorite socks, the teacher gave us easy homework today, my library books are overdue, I can’t find my roller skates and I know I put them in the closet.
We do have meaningful conversations about feelings, wishes and troubles, but not as often as I thought. I am worried, and I have changed that. Every minute counts, no matter if we talk in the car, on the way to school or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner.
Does my son like to talk about his feelings? No! I wonder what other mothers (particular moms with boys) say or do to encourage their children to talk about their emotions. In the meantime I keep trying. It is important to me that my child can come to me and talk about his problems and worries when he is an adolescent. I must lay those foundations right now. I just hope I find the right words to encourage him to express his feelings.
Perhaps the pastor’s answers are too simple for a very complex situation. Unconditional love and meaningful conversation may not be enough to rid the world of young people who will inflict harm upon others; however, I am convinced it is a start in the right direction.
I do not know if Tim received unconditional love. I do not know if Tim’s parents wish they had talked with their son more often. I just know that I must do my best to help that our child grows into a happy and loving man, who is an asset to society.
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