Today we are bombarded with controversy about guns. Should we have them or shouldn’t we? Our 2nd amendment gives us the right to have guns. Many people own guns, especially in our part of the country. But guns play an even bigger role in our society through our media. Many media outlets -television, movies, the Internet, and video games – show guns being used violently to kill large numbers of people. Our children and teens receive the message that guns are cool and easy to use. Children become desensitized to gun violence.
The issues we face relating to children and guns include their exposure to guns in the media and the presence of guns in their environment. Guns are not going to disappear. So how do we handle this with our children?
Parents need to talk with their children about guns. Help your child understand that a gun is a machine which improperly used can be lethal to the person using it as well as others. Many children do not realize that firing a weapon can send bullets far enough to kill people some distance away, for instance. Helping your child understand the need for him to not handle guns at his age is critical. Some families hunt and teach their children gun safety. Middle school children are capable of learning how to operate a gun IF they receive appropriate instruction about gun safety and are well-supervised in a safe environment. However, many middle school children do not yet understand the permanency of death. So parents must be cautious in teaching middle school children about using guns. Developmentally, teens in high school are better able to comprehend the seriousness of operating a gun.
Any parent who has a gun of any type in their home has an OBLIGATION to keep that weapon safely stored. Ammunition and guns should be stored separately. Guns should be secured in a locked cabinet. And parents should also be aware that alcohol use in a teen who has a gun available greatly increases risks. Ninety percent of adolescent gun violence that occurs also involves alcohol use. And teens who commit suicide with guns were five times more likely to have been using alcohol.
Guns and the media – talk to your teen about what he watches and the games he plays. Better yet, watch television with him and play his video games. You can get a real sense of how much violence your teen is watching. Help him reduce the media violence in his world and replace it with healthier activities.
One good resource is the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s website, www.aacap.org. Under the Facts for Families tab, the column about children and gun violence gives several helpful tips about this topic.
Written by Debra Atkisson, M.D.