As parents we know the fear of sending our kids off to school every day, never sure if they will come home safe; that bloodcurdling chill every time we hear about another school shooting.
But for the first time, I got a glimpse of the other side – the mind of a kid who makes a threat like that. And I know now that gun control is not the answer to this problem.
It’s HATE CONTROL.
Am I defending kids who make threats like that, including my son? NO. Am I rationalizing why people commit these heinous crimes? NO.
If you think that, then stop reading this right now. You obviously are here to attack me, and I’m not interested in what your small mind produces when you read this. So LEAVE.
What I am saying is, I understand why some kids might make threats like that. If you’re interested in my insight, please keep reading.
Although I write candidly and without a filter, many topics, particularly about my family, feel as though they are a violation of privacy and I won’t expose them.
It is with my son’s full permission that I write that he has been suffering tremendously with a debilitating chronic illness for the last four years. This story is not about that; just understand that he has been in and out of hospitals for years, undergone serious surgeries, and has handled it with a grace and a determination that I absolutely KNOW I would not be able to muster.
Until this year. At fifteen, he is a gnarly teenager, with all the unpleasant hormonal changes that come with his age.
And his illness has left him isolated, despondent and many days, devoid of hope.
My son, despite all the odds against him, gained entry into one of the most competitive high school programs in our county. It’s in a town half an hour away from where we used to live, which, in the suburbs, might as well be in another country.
He began high school knowing no one, but joined Marching Band and made a couple of friends.
And then, as it does, his illness took a turn for the worse, and he has been unable to attend school since December. For those of you not familiar with this, he is then put on “home instruction”: teachers come to the house weekly. I’m grateful that this option exists but for a teenage boy at a new school with barely any friends, it’s a death sentence.
He’s had months of isolation. He has no interaction with his peers. He sees therapists (yes, plural) to help him navigate his life though chronic illness. And although I do my best to supervise him, sometimes my best just isn’t good enough.
I have not been monitoring his online activity as diligently as I should have been. He mainly plays Xbox online and watches YouTube, but he also participates in group chats via Discord, and frankly, I have no idea what he says in these groups.
My son has been chatting in one group with his two friends, but there are a couple of other kids in the group who harass him about being Jewish.
My son said nothing to me. He says nothing because he doesn’t view this as “bullying.” To him, it’s part of life, and he shrugs it off.
Just let that sink in a minute.
In the area of New Jersey where I live, people have money instead of empathy. They have material things instead of intelligence. I’ve had the head of the PTO tell me to “watch that woman with the cash box” at a bake sale –because she was black. I’ve had people tell me which schools to avoid, because my son would be “going to school with Mexicans.”
His first best friend in elementary school was with him daily – until he came to our house for Hanukkah. After watching my son and his father don yarmulkes to light the menorah, he never spoke to my son again.
After years of listening to Christmas stories at his elementary school holiday parties, my kid begged me one year to be the class reader. I was told that the Hanukkah story we picked out was not appropriate, and to pick something “seasonal.”
So anti-Semitism just rolls off my kid’s back.
A month ago, he was in a group chat. That one boy started in with the anti- Semitic garbage, posting pictures of Auschwitz victims and Orthodox Jews. My son responded by calling him names, and it escalated.
My son wears hoodies to school. We all know that people wearing hoodies have been discriminated against. This one boy then nicknamed my son “school shooter” because of his hoodies, which led to more taunts and anti-Semitism. He egged several other boys to call my kid “school shooter” and in a darkly joking manner, my son posted a picture of a gun and said, “When I come back to school, I won’t be empty handed.”
Do you know the difference between a student who makes that threat idly, and a student who intends to carry out said threat?
You DON’T. No one does. These incidences cannot be taken lightly.
The other boy screen shot it. Interestingly enough, he said nothing to his parents, the school, or the authorities for a month. He had no idea when my son would return, but still said nothing.
He waited a month, and after my son was back at school for two days, reported him.
I understand the importance of reporting EVERY SINGLE threat like this. In this instance, I question this kid’s motives.
My son was immediately suspended. He was not allowed to return to school until he was evaluated by a psychiatrist.
He told a full and truthful account of what transpired, and the school immediately opened an investigation into hate speech and anti-Semitism.
They found nothing. All evidence of the chat hat been erased. The other kids in the chat, life long friends with that one boy, don’t remember seeing anything.
My son is lucky that criminal charges were not pressed. You CANNOT EVER make statements like that.
He is paying for what he did dearly. School suspension is no joke. Being investigated by the police and school authorities is intense.
He will likely not be able to return to the program he worked so hard to get in. He has not been disallowed, but if the hallways are filled with whispers of “school shooter,” “Jew trouble maker,” he will be miserable there.
I have suspended all his online privileges. He is blocked from going online except to sites that are required for schoolwork.
All you parents out there fighting the good fight for gun control – gun control will mean nothing if we don’t crack down on HATE CONTROL.
Kids don’t just become racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, xenophobic, in a vacuum. They learn it at home.
WATCH YOUR WORDS.
Don’t complain about your Jew boss. Don’t talk about how Mexicans milk the system. Stop telling your kids that if they ever came out as gay, you would be mortified.
And how about taking it a step further?
Your son or daughter who is so popular – can you not urge them to befriend the less popular? The less attractive? The sick kid? The misfit?
Can’t you spend a little time with them talking about inclusion? Would it be SO GODDAMN TERRIBLE if your popular kid befriended the transgender kid? The kid with Asperger’s? The new kid who just moved here?
I don’t have the time or the energy to investigate the psychological profiles of all the teenage kids who shot up their schools, but I guarantee you they were made to feel like discarded garbage.
You can argue for gun control until you are blue in the face, and I tell you IT WON’T MATTER IF WE DON’T EXERCISE HATE CONTROL.
I am by no means a perfect parent – I suck, obviously, or my son wouldn’t be suspended right now. But I have always encouraged him to befriend that transgender kid no one speaks to, that fat kid everyone made fun of – and he has.
For GOD’S SAKE, can you not do the same?
Teenage brains are not fully developed. They are filled with hormonal fluctuations and they are experiencing emotions they cannot process.
They cannot navigate through baseless hatred as well as we adults have learned to do.
I’m not even that observant of a Jew, but I am so SICK AND TIRED of the anti –Semitism aimed at us, I hope he DOES leave that program and we can move far, far away.
Parents. You really want to cut down on school shootings?
STOP. THE. HATE.
I have no more words. But you can talk to me.