KANSAS CITY, Mo — The violence at Northeast Middle School on Tuesday has left many in the Kansas City, Missouri, community feeling anxious.
As parents, students and school administrators wonder how they will move forward and how they will prevent youth violence from happening again, mental health experts are looking into the root causes and hoping to stay one step ahead.
“Truthfully a lot of it is access to screens and technology,” Rand Spruill, with the Child Protection Center said.
Spruill says it has become increasingly difficult for teens and children to differentiate between fantasy fiction and reality.
Exposure to such violence and non-age appropriate content online could often time carry over into a child's thoughts and actions.
“I also think our communities feel like they are becoming more violent,” Spruill said.
The CPC has seen a significant increase in violent cases, especially during the pandemic.
Families living in close quarters and allowing tension to build has added to the already existing rise in community violence.
If preventative measures are not put in place for healthy conflict resolution, Spruill is concerned the trajectory will only get worse and bring on consequences.
“The biggest one I think being mental health. I think when kids are surrounded by violence, whether that is through screens or in their communities, it really impacts their brain development,” Spruill said. “As far as Kansas City goes, and across the nation, there’s a real mental health provider shortage as compared to the need. And I think that’s where kids feel it the most — when they need the services, there is a real shortage.”
This is why Spruill is emphasizing the importance of parents emulating healthy behaviors and conversations starting in the home.
Spruill also suggests school districts to equip their students through education.
“Starting some conflict resolution, some formalized conflict resolution education for kids could be really beneficial," Spriull said. "I think that that does take some state-level coordination to make sure that kids are accessing similar resources and similar lessons."
Angie Salava, the director of Social Emotional Learning and Mental Health Services at Olathe Public Schools, says when tragedy does strike, the most important thing to make sure is that students know they are cared for and that they are loved.
“That school is still a safe place and restoring that sense of safety and that sense of normalcy that they are craving,” Salava said.
Salava and her colleagues had to navigate how to be supportive to students and staff following the Olathe East High School shooting. She says there were challenges.
“The biggest challenge is the range of reactions and being able to meet each students need,” Salava said. “With the kids at Olathe East, we wanted to ensure that every student had the opportunity to process what had happened.”
Salava says guided round-table discussions, the presence of counselors in the classrooms and therapy dogs helped tremendously in the healing process.
She encourages administration to ask students how they feel to initiate an open conversation.
“A lot of times we ask people, how are you thinking? or what are you doing? But maybe, a better question would be how are you feeling? And then really listen to that answer,” Salava said.
As for how we prevent future tragedies, Salava believe it starts with fostering more and better relationships.
“It’s harder to bestow violence upon people that you have relationships with," Salava said. "And also make sure people know where support can be reached and how to help someone who is in distress."