ASK to save a life!

June 21, the first day of summer, is National ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Day. The ASK Campaign encourages everyone to ask if there are unlocked guns in the homes where children play. The Asking Saves Kids (ASK) Campaign encourages parents to ask a very important question before playdates: “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?” It’s a simple question, but it has the power to save a child’s life.

1 in 3 homes with children in America have guns. Ask to save a life.
Click to enlarge. Source: http://askingsaveskids.org/

Keeping a gun in the home increases the risk of injury and death, yet 1 in 3 American homes with children have at least 1 gun.

Every year thousands of kids are killed or injured by guns. When parents think of asking about guns in a playdate’s home, they often can’t imagine how to enter into that conversation.

It doesn’t have to be awkward to ask before your child visits friends. I’ll show you how.

But first let’s review why this is so very important.

Guns are common in our communities. Ask if they are in the area your children will play, and if so, be sure they're stored safely! #ASKingSavesLives
Guns are common in our communities. Ask if they are in the area your children will play, and if so, be sure they’re stored safely! #ASKingSavesKids

Gun Safety

One question could save a child's life. Ask.
Click to enlarge. Source: http://askingsaveskids.org/

Many parents buy a gun to help protect their family, but a gun in the home increases the risk of a family member being hurt or killed by a gun more than preventing a crime.

Kids have natural curiosity and if they find a gun, they are likely to play with it, even when they are taught to not touch guns.

Toy guns and real guns are so similar, it can be difficult to tell them apart.

Several studies over the years show that gun education programs fail. Diane Sawyer’s Young Guns episode showed that even soon after gun safety education, kids will play with a gun and not follow the rules they just learned.

Regardless of the reason for or type of gun, there are guns in 1 in 3 homes with children in America. Too many of those guns are not locked. A gun in the home increases the risk of homicide, suicide, and accidental injuries.

Don’t mistakenly think that your gun is needed to keep your family safe. For every time a gun in the home was used for self-defense, there were 4 unintentional shootings, 7 criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.

Accidental shootings

Accidental shootings occur far too often, especially in young children.

See the table below that lists the numbers of leading causes of injury deaths by age. In children under 15, there were 73 unintentional firearm deaths in 2016. That number does not include homicides and suicides.

10 Leading Causes of Death by age in 2016
Click to enlarge. Source: https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/leadingcauses.html
Homicide

Sadly there have been too many kids who have been killed by intentional gunfire, both at home and in public areas. The higher the number of guns in a community, the more gun deaths there are.

Our kids must practice active shooter drills at school because school shootings are occurring with more frequency. Many of these shootings are kids who bring their parent’s gun to school.

Suicide

Suicide attempts with guns are usually fatal. Sadly too many people consider suicide as an option when they’re down.

Having a gun in the home when a teen is depressed increases the risk of death by suicide. Over 80% of teen suicide by firearm is done with a family member’s gun.

Keeping guns locked with the ammunition locked separately is important even when you don’t have young children. It can deter teens from accessing guns in a time of despair.

Hiding guns

Parental perception of what kids know about guns is lacking.
Child knowledge of handling of guns in the home. Source: https://www.bradycampaign.org/sites/default/files/Kids-and-Guns-Report%202016_final.pdf

Hiding guns is not a safe plan. Nearly 80% of kids know where the family gun is hidden. Parents usually don’t realize the kids know.

I’ve seen more than a couple surprised parents when they learn that their child knows where the family gun is stored in a drawer or closet. They presumed the child had no idea about the gun, but kids know things. It’s bad enough if they know your secret hiding place for birthday gifts, but if they know where the unlocked gun is, natural curiosities can take over.

It’s not political

I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, Liberal, or other political affiliation. This isn’t about politics. It’s about keeping kids safe.

This is not about the Second Amendment. Americans have a right to bear arms. But with rights comes responsibilities.

This is about the responsibilities that come with the right to bear arms. Adults have a responsibility to keep children safe.

When having the discussion, keep it about safety. Don’t make it about politics. That turns people off and gets them on the defensive. Don’t judge whether it’s okay to own a gun. Focus on the issue of making sure all guns are safely stored unloaded and locked.

Make it less awkward

Parents must have awkward conversations. Don't let that stop you from keeping kids safe.
Click to enlarge. Source: http://askingsaveskids.org/

As parents there are many awkward things we must deal with. Being awkward or difficult doesn’t make it okay to just ignore it if safety is involved.

By introducing safety concerns that are not judgement issues, it can be more natural to then talk about more sensitive topics.

Use these non-controversial openers to start the conversation before playdates.

Pets

Allowing a dog who is not friendly and patient around kids to be with the kids is a red flag. Ask if there are pets and how they respond to kids, especially kids they don’t know. If you’re not comfortable with that pet, ask if the parent can keep the kids and pet separate.

When kids are afraid of animals, the other parent needs to be aware.

If there are any pet concerns, see if they can keep the pet in another room while your child is there. If not, have their child to your home instead.

Allergies

If your child has allergies to animals or foods, the other parent needs to be aware. Talk about the allergy and what can be done to help your child not suffer.

When the parent is not able to keep your child safe from allergens in their home, ask if their child can come to yours instead.

Other safety risks

There are numerous other safety risks that could be used as introductory concerns. You can’t ask everything, but pick the things that are most important to you.

Will the kids be riding bikes or scooters? Are there enough helmets for everyone or should your child bring his own?

Is there a wooded area that will require bug sprays or tick checks after the play date?

If they play outside, how closely are they supervised? Do you need to send along sunscreen?

Does your child need to wear sneakers or will they be staying indoors and the flip flops are okay?

If a parent will be responsible for driving your child, do they have an appropriate car seat or booster seat?

Do they have a trampoline or pool? If so, what are their rules and safety measures?

Be first

Be the first to ask a child to your home. With the invitation, list everything you think another parent might be interested in knowing. Hopefully they will reciprocate by giving similar information when they invite your kids over, but if not, ask.

“We’d love to have Johnny over. We have a German Shepard, but he’s really good with kids. If Johnny needs him to be put in the master bedroom, just let me know. We also have a trampoline, but if the kids get on it, a parent is always outside. If that’s not okay, let me know. And we have a rifle, but it’s in the gun safe and the ammunition is locked separately. Is there anything we need to know about Johnny?”

Take the ASK Pledge

Pledge to ASK if there are unlocked guns where your child visits. Encourage friends and family to do the same!

Pledge to ASK if there are unlocked guns where your child visits: http://www.bradycampaign.org/take-action/pledge-to-ask
Pledge to ASK: http://www.bradycampaign.org/take-action/pledge-to-ask

Resources

The Truth About Kids and Guns from The Brady Campaign

CDC’s WISQARS™ (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System)

WISQARS Interactive Visualization

jose-alonso-589704-unsplashphoto credit:Jose Alonso

Be Prepared! Season 2 of “13 Reasons Why” Starts Soon.

The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” came in like a whirlwind last year. With it came increased thoughts and attempts of suicide. I’m worried that Season 2 will have a similar contagion effect this year. I’ve already heard from many teens that they plan on watching it. Last year I saw many teens significantly affected by Season 1, so it was on my radar to watch “some time soon.”

When my 15 year old said she wanted to watch it but needed me to unlock her Netflix restrictions to be able to view all maturity levels, I knew I had to watch it sooner rather than later.

It hit me hard.

The Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" came in like a whirlwind last year. I'm worried that Season 2 will have a similar effect this year. Last year I saw many teens significantly affected by Season 1, and I'm hoping we can all be prepared more this year.
I’m hoping we can all be more prepared this year to talk to our kids and teens about watching “13 Reasons Why” responsibly.

The show did a great job of getting me hooked. I binge watched most of the episodes over one weekend. I put off grocery shopping and other necessities. It was hard to stop watching despite the fact that it was hard to watch.

There was a lot of debate about whether or not Netflix was responsible in showing this series. The producers claimed they wanted to bring the issues to the forefront. Mental health experts argued that it sensationalized suicide. I can see both sides. It does bring the conversation to the forefront, but can also lead to increased feelings of depression and post traumatic stress.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it for several weeks. There was so much to process! And I’m a 40-something year old pediatrician mother of teens who has a lot of life experiences to help with the processing. I can’t imagine processing this as a teen. And for those who have a history of abuse, rape, or other traumatic life events, this series could really be traumatic to watch.

This blog was first attempted a year ago, but it was too fresh and I could not finish it. I went to it many times, but never could finish it. It’s been a year and now Season 2 is coming, so I thought I’d finally finish it it in anticipation of all the kids who will see the upcoming season.

What’s it about?

Season One was about a girl who committed suicide and left tapes to explain the 13 reasons why she did it. It left a number of issues unresolved, such as a victim dealing with rape, a shooting, a counselor who failed to help on an at-risk child, and more. Season Two is expected to tackle these issues based on the previews.

It doesn’t sound any less traumatizing to watch than the first season. They do have a website dedicated to helping people who are struggling and supposedly will have warnings and helpful resources with each episode.

No more hiding the subject.

Depression is a significant problem. We do need to discuss it.

Between 10-15% of teenagers have some symptoms of depression at any given time. We need to recognize and address it better than we do. Less than a third of teens with depression get help, yet 80% of teens with depression can be successfully treated.

It is recommended that all teens be screened for depression yearly. If your teen hasn’t been screened, schedule a yearly physical with his or her physician, and be sure they are screened at that visit with a standardized questionnaire.

Schedule a visit that is dedicated to discuss depression if you’re worried about depression. If your teen has significant risks for suicide, take action immediately.

Again and again in Season 1 there are opportunities for the teens to talk to an adult, but they don’t, which is too often the case in real life. It’s not that parents don’t ask. They do.

In real life and in the show, parents offer to listen, but kids don’t talk. You can argue that parents should push harder, but that usually tunes teens out even more. Having teens fill out a standardized questionnaire can help identify problems that might be missed at home and school.

Open the conversation.

Conversation is desperately needed. Our kids are exposed to much more than we were.

The internet allows them to research just about anything – and they can find inappropriate things intentionally or accidentally.

Rumors spread much faster than they did when we were kids due to social media.

Our kids are at risk of being photographed in compromising situations more than we were in the days of bulky film cameras and when video recorders were not in everyone’s phone.

This show could be a great eye-opener for parents of teens. The first season depicted teens getting drunk, struggling with relationships, drug abuse, abusive relationships among family and friends, sexuality, bullying, and rape. Maybe parents already know these things happen, but don’t realize how it affects their kids. Watching shows like this with your teens can help to start the conversation.

Teens hear about and see this stuff so we as parents cannot shy away from it. Whether they go to public schools, private schools or religious affiliated schools, they are not in bubbles. These situations and topics affect them in real life.

Watching shows that tackle controversial topics together (or watching separately but discussing) helps open a needed conversation. They need help processing all the “stuff” they encounter at school and online.

Warning!

It might be risky for people who have been sexually assaulted or have experienced trauma of any sort to watch this series and shows like it. I have seen some teens who suffered from post traumatic stress reactions after watching Season 1.

If you struggle with a history of assault or abuse, cautiously watch it with someone you trust. Stop if viewing becomes uncomfortable.

Things to discuss.

Of course I haven’t watched Season 2 yet so I can’t comment specifically on it. Common Sense Media has a short video on things to know and once the shows are available online, they will have more.

Some things that can be discussed from Season 1:

Social Media

Social media is a theme throughout the series. Kids send messages that spread to everyone at school several times. Cyberbullying is real. It doesn’t go away when kids go home, which is historically a safe zone, but there are no longer safe zones for kids due to the internet.

In the first season, a picture that can easily be mistaken for something it isn’t is shown to friends to brag (inappropriately) about a sexual experience (that didn’t happen) is shared by a friend (with minimal resistance). This of course causes the girl in the picture to be thought of as a slut and the guy as cool. This slut label lasts for months despite the fact that it isn’t true. There are several discussion points here:

Talk to your kids about never sharing pictures or words online that could be hurtful or embarrassing to anyone. Ever.

talking to adults

There is a consistent theme in season 1 of teens not wanting to talk to adults. I have teens of my own so I know this is an issue regardless of how often parents try to connect.

It is a normal phase of life, but kids need to know that it’s important to talk to a parent or another trusted adult if any significant issues arise. I always remind teens that their brains aren’t mature until the mid 20s, so if they need advice, they need to ask an adult. Even very smart and kind teens can give bad advice because they just don’t know yet what the best advice is.

Alcohol and drugs

Each party these characters attend has what appears to be every teen drinking alcohol. This normalizes the use of alcohol. There is talk of not drinking and driving, but it is still not responsible (or legal) use.

Talk about how Jessica goes from occasional use of alcohol to regular use, even at school, as a means to deal with her emotions. As she becomes more depressed, she attempts to self medicate with alcohol and marijuana. This is not a healthy way to treat depression.

Teens need to know there are many healthier options to have fun at a party and more effective ways to address any depressed feelings. I have written more on teens and alcohol previously.

Accepting responsibility

Use some of the show’s examples to highlight how individual choices and actions make a difference.

Jessica’s actions restrict her from cheerleading. She blames the coach, but it is her behaviors that are causing the coach to make consequences.

When a minor accident caused a stop sign to be knocked down, it led to a more serious accident. By not calling the police when the stop sign was knocked down, they indirectly lead to the death of a friend. It didn’t seem like such a big deal but actions have consequences.

Guilt

After suicide, many friends and family members feel guilty, but people who are suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts need professional help. Friends and family members should show love and support, but they are not capable or trained to help sufficiently.

Put a suicide hotline number in every phone.

Learn warning signs so you can help a friend if needed.

Rape and sexual harassment

There is a general theme of girls being objectified and sexually harassed at school. There are few students who seem to realize the seriousness of this.

We need to open the discussion of how to treat others with respect, not objects.

sexual consent

Sexual assault and consent is an often misunderstood topic. While rape can result in physical trauma, it does not always cause physical injury or involve brutality. Victims do not always have bruises or obvious physical symptoms.

In Season 1 we learn that Jessica was raped and didn’t even know it due to alcohol. There are many instances of rape where victims blame themselves for not saying no firmly enough or because they lead someone on.

Victims are often blamed for dressing suggestively or flirting too much. 

People who have experienced sexual assault but have no physical trauma are less likely to report the incident to the authorities or to get proper healthcare related to the encounter. People who have had sexual assault are more likely to have symptoms that seem unrelated, such as headaches, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, poor physical health, depression, and anxiety.

Discuss sexual consent with your kids and teens.

Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

National Sexual Assault Hotline. RAINN. Free. Confidential. 24/7.

Stop Bullying. Resources to help prevent bullying and cyberbullying.

Alcohol Addiction Center. Resources for alcohol misuse and addiction.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) Toolkit on 13 Reasons Why.