An eye-opening video featured on Sandy Hook Promise is raising awareness about gun violence among young people and how we can prevent it.
The video depicts Evan, a typical bored teenage boy, doodling on a desk in school. A fellow student anonymously writes back, and the two spark up a conversation. Later in the video, Evan discovers who has been writing him—a girl, also disenchanted with school enough to scrawl across a desk. As their in-person friendship finally blossoms, the school doors slam open and another student enters with a gun.
The shocking ending is incredibly effective. Text across the screen tells us what we didn’t see. We focused on Evan’s story and neglected to see the student in the background who showed signs of potential violence.
I am a parent, and I was a high school English teacher for years. I missed the boy in the background when I watched the first time. Maybe it’s due to the angle in which it was filmed. The director intentionally focuses the camera on Evan and the girl he meets. The boy in the background seems irrelevant. But that’s the point. Far more than Evan, he is the kid who needs our attention.
This kid is your shooter at Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Virginia Tech. He feels unwanted, forgotten, and that no one cares about him. It’s kids like this, in this deep depression, isolation, and despair, who take other kids’ lives before taking their own. And if they don’t commit acts of violence as teens, there’s a good chance they will as adults.
Sadly, it often isn’t until after these senseless acts of violence that people who knew the shooters admit that there were signs. They were withdrawn. Angry. Obsessed with violence. Loners. Maybe they had made threats before. The truth is, they probably looked a lot like the boy in the background—the boy who is about to open fire on his classmates.
So what do we do? If gun violence is, in fact, preventable, as this video asserts, how do we prevent it?
This is not a video about gun control legislation or governmental mental health care reform. Rather, Sandy Hook Promise uses this video as part of their ad campaign #knowthesigns. Parents and educators as well as fellow peers must watch, listen, and say something if a kid shows sudden drops in academic performance, apathy, and/or gestures of or obsession with violence. The Sandy Hook Promise website offers a “Know the Signs” guide that can be downloaded as well as helpful tips on how to “say something” effectively.
Other ideas include providing safe, confidential places for kids who do see something and want to report it. Equally important, schools need to be places of inclusion. Far too often kids turn to violence as a means to get attention when they haven’t been accepted into any circle. The desperation to be “cool” is so intense that it can drive a kid to murder in the attempt to attain that status. Providing more opportunities for kids to show their talents and foster their interests, especially for kids who may not be good at sports or naturally outgoing, lets them know that they have a place too.
As a former educator, I can recall having students who showed signs like these. I had kids who were withdrawn, angry, and depressed. There were times I contacted parents, counselors, principals, and expressed my concern. And there were times I simply wrote a note that said, “See me after class.” Sometimes just having a teacher ask, “Are you okay?” or telling a student you believe in him makes a difference. It might be the beginning of a bridge—a lifeline, something to tell that child that he matters. To someone.
This video is eye-opening. Let’s vow to watch for the kids in the background and not just focus on the Evans. Let’s know the signs, start with hello, and say something. And let’s teach our kids to do the same. Maybe we can save some lives if we do.