Westchester School Safety: How Much Do You Tell Your Kids?

Telling the truth about Newtown might be the best way to keep children safe

Besides being enormously important in preventing and responding to emergency situations, communication is key to increasing students’ sense of well-being. How much to tell children about violence and terrorism is a quandary for many adults. Well-meaning parents may want to shield kids from the horror of what happened at Sandy Hook and elsewhere, but that’s not realistic. With virtually constant access to news reports and rumors flying via texts, “Kids see so much. I call them the ‘M-generation,’ the media generation. As educators, we can’t control what they see and hear outside of school,” says Anita Giordano, the secondary school counselor and community service coordinator at the French-American School of New York, in Mamaroneck. “Everyone is connected all the time; they find things out first. The way to end misinformation is for schools and parents to put the correct information out there as soon as possible.

“It’s okay to tell the kids the truth—they do better, they can process better if they have something concrete to deal with,” Giordano says. “You have to be honest with them, but be careful to give them information appropriate to their age level.”

Youngsters don’t have to know every detail, but hearing the basics can take away some of the mystique and speculation about things grownups may be tempted to whisper about. “Our teacher talked to us about Sandy Hook,” says Michael Grande, a 5th-grader at Ridgeway Elementary School in White Plains. “She told us they’re working 10 times harder than they used to, to keep kids safe. Before that, everyone was saying: ‘Do you know how many people died?!’ But Ridgeway is working harder and I feel safer.” The 9-year-old admits he ‘kind of forgot about Sandy Hook,’ in recent months.

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Speaking openly to children about what has happened in other schools reinforces “a culture of safety” in which they’re more likely to take security measures seriously, Miraglia says. “One of the best ways to maintain safety at school is by soliciting the students as partners in the process. Students need to be aware of what could happen and what to do. They can be eyes and ears for the administrator; they can alert a trusted faculty member if something doesn’t seem right,” he says. 

The number of violent incidents in schools hasn’t taken away the stigma of being a tattletale. “There’s that social piece, being accepted is more important to them now than anything else,” Giordano says. Anonymous reporting policies, like making a report online, through a phone hotline, or through a suggestion box can help kids feel comfortable with alerting authorities to worrisome things they see or hear. “I tell my kids all the time, report things to the administration, there are ways to tell without being revealed. It’s hard to tell on a friend, but their behavior may be a cry for help.”

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