Addressing trauma in the wake of gun violence

More than 187,000 students, attending 198 primary or and secondary schools in the United States, have been exposed to gun violence at school since Columbine in 1999. Pastors and youth leaders are being called upon to help these children and youth process the fear, grief, and other things these shootings evoke. Dave Showalter shares these thoughts for youth workers.

Snippets from “The Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis” 

  • Let your students/children know, “This is NOT how it’s supposed to be…and one day it won’t be!” They are under the ultimate and eternal care of a God to and about whom and whose care David wrote: “Yea though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil… for you are with me.” They are under the ultimate and eternal care of a Savior who said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28, NIV) They are under the ultimate and eternal care of a God whose word says to them at least four times throughout God’s love letter to us, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you!”
  • Parents and Youth Workers can promise this (and unfortunately, only this): “I’ll do my best to protect you every day.”

Post-terror actions youth workers and parents can take:

  • Provide a safe place for them to vent their feelings as often as they need to (victims may need to tell their stories many times).
  • As the shock subsides, ask “Now what?” Give your students/children a reason to think into the future about recovery, rebuilding, and prevention.
  • Lead students in serving others in age-appropriate and situationally appropriate ways. Think about starting near at hand and working outward, always looking for unmet needs you and your students can responsibly address.
  • Speak into the terror theologically.
  • Again, one of the most potent messages in the face of catastrophe is the declaration, “It’s not supposed to be this way…Our Creator takes no pleasure in the suffering and death of God's creatures… It’s not supposed to be this way, and one day, IT WON’T BE!”
  • Watch for signs of PTSD. Research shows that talking helps those suffering PTSD. And that we are, in most cases, best served by getting help/referring to professionals if we observe this.

More resources: 

*Taken from a letter by David S. Showalter