This past month another shooting took place in a Colorado high school. As a parent and a child therapist in Denver Colorado I struggle with the feeling of “Oh no, not again!” How can we stop this from happening over and over again? Parents of middle school boys come in for sessions and ask, “David, I am afraid of my son resorting to violence, he has no control over his reactions, how can I help prevent this?”
In reaction to the shootings there has been a renewed focus on mental illness. How can we detect and report these illnesses before they explode? I feel our focus must be on how to create a culture of mental health in our schools and homes. Dr. Dan Siegal in many of his books discusses how to define mental health. Two terms he uses to describe mental health are the ability to be flexible as well as adaptive. If a person can be flexible and adaptive they can deal with the challenges that life will throw at them. It was reported that Karl Pierson, the Arapahoe High School shooter, wrote the Latin phrase Alea iacta est — meaning “The die has been cast” — on his arm. It seems that the shooter viewed past events as permanent and something that was not able to change, for” the die had been cast”.
An activity that I sometimes use in child and family therapy is to take a piece of paper and ask the family to draw a line in a wave up and down. Then along that line fill in life events that represent the highs and lows of life. The goal of this activity is to highlight how life has ups and downs and is constantly changing – ‘The die has not been cast”. By teaching our children and ourselves how to become flexible and adaptive we can move toward a lifestyle of mental health. When children develop the ability to become flexible and adaptive they will be able to ride the waves of life and not lose control over their actions.