Children are saying ‘We are afraid’

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 10/1/2018, 2:13 p.m.
The school shootings are scary, and we feel like nothing can stop it from happening. – 11-year-old girl, Indiana

Children’s Defense Fund

• The school shootings are scary, and we feel like nothing can stop it from happening. – 11-year-old girl, Indiana

• We are afraid because there are too many threats at schools. I want my school to be safe and to have art because kids like art. – 8-year-old girl, Wisconsin

• No one is doing anything to make me feel safe at school. – 14-year-old girl, Washington, D.C.

• We deserve to have a childhood. – 13-year-old boy, Pennsylvania

What worries children most at the start of a new school year? In simpler times, it might have been remembering their locker combination, or making sure they had a friend to sit with at lunch. But a recent Children’s Defense Fund’s Parent and Child Trends Survey by YouGov found that fear of a school shooting is the second most common worry for children between 6 and 17 years old and the third most common for parents. One-third of children surveyed said they are worried about a shooting happening at their school. Only worries about being bullied are more common.

Children deserve a safe and happy childhood. Instead they are being robbed of their innocence by pervasive gun violence that nags and picks at their minds and spirits, day in and day out, snuffing out joy. Today, children in kindergarten classrooms are taught how to react if someone enters their school and starts firing a gun. The recent wave of tragic school shootings, from Sandy Hook Elementary to Stoneman Douglas High School, has cemented mass violence as a huge everyday concern among a broad cross-section of America’s children. Our survey shows fear of a school shooting is consistent across racial, ethnic and income groups. Only 59 percent of all children – and only 42 percent of Black children – say they feel safe at school. What a shameful abnegation of adult responsibility.

Children and parents also are worried about safety and gun violence outside of classrooms and schools. Although more children say they feel safer in their neighborhood than in school, the fear of school and neighborhood shootings expressed by children and their parents is an urgent call to action for all of us – parents, grandparents, neighbors, teachers, advocates, faith leaders and elected officials – to stand up, speak out, take action and vote for people who protect children, not guns. Children should feel safe wherever they live, learn and play.

While many politicians across our country have responded to the recent spate of horrendous school shootings with calls to put more guns in schools by arming teachers, only one-third of children, and a slightly lower percentage of parents, agree with the statement: “Teachers having guns in school would help children be safer.” Black children and parents were especially skeptical of the proposal to arm teachers, with only 25 percent of Black children and 19 percent of Black parents agreeing.

Many believe adding more guns to schools is not the answer. “The more guns that are on the premises, the more likely someone is to be shot. The guard at the Parkland shooting didn’t even go in. I don’t think armed guards or police officers will help,” one parent said. A 10-year-old girl from New York said, “I don’t like to see guns anywhere. I’m afraid of them. I’d be afraid of a teacher who had one.”