Another school shooting this week left many of us asking the same questions: how to stop school shootings and how to help end teen violence. I, too, am sickened by the wanton destruction and meaningless loss of life as a result of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, just as I’ve been sickened and heartbroken about teen violence in my own city.
Author’s Note: Four years ago, another school shooting rocked our nation. The original version of this post reflected my outrage. Instead of anger, this time I’ve taken a long moment to settle my heart and reflect on the myriad of influences that lead to acts of violence. The original post has been completely rewritten to reflect a more contemplative approach based on the knowledge gained through years of direct work with troubled teens and those who work with them. This article is written for the body of Christ from a Judeo-Christian perspective.
You may wonder if the changes discussed in this article are fail-safe actions to stop school shootings or end teen violence. The answer, unfortunately, is no. These recommendations are core-belief actions for disciples of Jesus. Can they make a difference? Yes. Can they help end teen violence or stop school shootings? Yes. If even one death is averted, if even one violent act is avoided, the changes recommended here will be worth it.
How to Stop School Shootings: Consider Hurts and Scars
Let’s begin by considering children living in impoverished, difficult family situations. They aren’t blind to the lifestyles of those who have more financial resources and they want what others have, including a peaceful home, love, and sufficient healthy food. For a child whose family doesn’t live by the Judeo-Christian ethic (or for the child who chooses not to), it’s not a far stretch to think they should have the same things other children have and, if they can’t, they should be able to take what they want.
In addition, poverty can lead to difficult or abusive situations which often seem as if they will never end. Physical and emotional abuse leaves scars that last for years. Words hurt, just as punches and rape hurt. They can take root in the minds of the recipients and linger for decades. Bullying can come from adults or children and it always wounds.
Children learn from the examples of the people around them, including the examples of abuse or other poor lifestyle choices. These seemingly never-ending challenges can breed anger and lead to violence. The addition of adolescent hormonal surges can be, and sometimes is, a recipe for disaster.
Children who don’t know the basics of the Judeo-Christian ethic or the unending, unconditional love of God, lack the filter of this basic God-centric moral code. If you’ve never heard “thou shalt not murder,” you don’t know God’s view on murder. If you’ve never been taught, “love your enemies,” hate and retaliation seem like reasonable responses.
According to Scripture, our actions reflect the condition of our hearts. For wounded children and teenagers, angry, wounded hearts lead to angry, wounding actions. It’s that simple and it’s also that hard.
The Influence of Affluence
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23 niv
We need to look no further than social media to see a shocking picture of the heart of the church and affluent America. Our lifestyles may not seem extravagant by American standards, but they do to someone living in the poorest areas of our world and often to those living in poverty in our own nation. We want what we want and we expect to have it, even if it means we have to work long, hard hours or stretching our budgets near the breaking point to get whatever is the next great thing. Most of what we want is not inherently evil but our propensity toward extravagance and entitlement does say something about our priorities and our hearts and may lead others to choose the same.
Please don’t misunderstand me. The affluence of others does not cause school shootings and an end to affluence is not the way to end school shootings. Instead, poverty and difficult, abusive situations can be contributing factors to violence in frustrated, hurting adolescents. We do not suggest an end to affluence or to the enjoyment of resources but an awareness of the needs of those experiencing great trials in life and how difficult the contrast between rich and poor can be, especially for the one trapped in poverty who sees no way out.
Those who enjoy affluence have a God-given responsibility to care about and help those who do not.
How to Help End Teen Violence: The Crown Conundrum and Our Servant Savior
As people of God and children of the King of Kings, it’s easy to embrace the idea of ourselves as princes and princesses, but the only crown Jesus, Prince of Heaven, wore here on earth was a crown of thorns. (John 19:2) The garment he donned was that of a servant. (John 13:3-5) As children of the King, can we expect to do differently?
Jesus waded into the darkest situations and gave light and life to the most hopeless. His light shined in the darkness, and the darkness DID NOT overcome it, and it still doesn’t. (John 1:4-5) He set the example for us all.
How can those living in darkness embrace the light if they never see it? Never experience it? As disciples of Christ, we are the designated light-bearers and we must take the light of Christ to those living in darkness, even when they’re outside our comfort zone. (Matthew 5:14-16) How can we help end teen violence? Share the light and love of Christ with hurting teens and their families.
How to Stop School Shootings: Change Begins in the Heart
If our heart condition determines our actions, and it does, only heart change can bring about different actions. We cannot expect people who don’t know Jesus personally to act as if they do nor can we expect them to allow Jesus to change their hearts. Neither can we expect people who’ve never heard of the commandment “do not murder” to restrain themselves from killing. (Exodus 20:13)
You may be surprised by this next statement, but heart change needs to begin in God’s people first. As disciples of Jesus, we are the ones who must obey His command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-39) We are to take up our cross daily and follow Him. (Matthew 16:24) In the taking up of our cross, we must also lay down our agenda and our plans. We die to ourselves, live for Christ, and love our neighbor even when our neighbor makes horrible decisions and has a lifestyle we don’t like. (Galatians 2:20) Is that the kind of discipleship the world sees when they look at you? At me?
Not everyone who met Jesus in person and heard Him preach decided to die to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Him or love others in the same way they loved themselves. Plenty of me-first people who saw Jesus as He walked the streets of first-century Jerusalem rejected Him, just as they do today, but potential rejection didn’t stop Jesus from loving. It shouldn’t stop us, either. We’re accountable for how we live and how we love, not how others respond.
How to Help End Teen Violence: Start with Love
It’s hard to make a tangible difference with high-risk students or people on the edge of society. We know because we’ve spent years in the effort. After countless hours invested in the lives of troubled teens, we’ve seen some excel despite impossible situations and others, headed to sure success, stumble and fail miserably. We’ve wept with our community when teen violence ended the lives of young people well on their way to successful, productive lives. We’ve loved and grieved and learned an important and vital lesson along the way.
Until we take the time to know their names, hear their stories, and love them where they are, we cannot make a difference in the lives of troubled teens or their families.
It’s often said but no less true. People don’t care how much you know (about life, Jesus, or wise decision-making) until they know how much you care. Want to stop school shootings and help end teen violence? Start with love.
Choices Always Bring Consequences
Regardless of our opinion about Christ or religion, our choices result in consequences. We do, indeed, reap what we sow–whether we know Jesus or not. Christians are not free from bad decisions or hard consequences so we should not condemn others who make bad decisions and suffer hard consequences either. The good news about consequences is they often cause us to consider the choices which led to our consequences and how we might avoid the unpleasantness in the future by a better choice.
In fact, we should not be surprised when people do whatever seems right in their own eyes or when it doesn’t work out well for them. The “if it feels good, do it” strategy has been around since the Garden of Eden. It didn’t work out well for Adam and Eve and it won’t work out well for those who subscribe to it today either.
Can parents who’ve never experienced the love of Christ be expected to teach their children about the Judeo-Christian ethic? Of course not. It’s the job of the church to make disciples, not the job of people who don’t know Jesus. If we long for hearts to change, we must share Jesus, the Change-Maker, and demonstrate His love and power to those most in need of Him. Only then can they know Him, follow Him, and allow Him to heal their hearts and set them in a new direction.
How to End School Shootings: Be the change and lead by example
This may seem like a “Pollyanna” statement, but I believe violence in schools and the decline of integrity in our society are reflections of the heart of our nation and only heart change can help. We must embrace the concept of moral absolutes, understand the difference between right and wrong, and choose the path of right living.
Disciples of Jesus, we must be the change we say we want, step outside our comfort zone, and engage with people in need. We can help, and we must.
Ways to Make a Difference and Help End Teen Violence:
- Volunteer to help at a school in your area, especially one for high-risk teens. Tutor in reading. Offer to share your expertise with students. Serve as a mentor. Encourage teachers. Surprise teachers and students with treats on holidays.
- Offer to read books to the class for an elementary school teacher and choose the books wisely.
- Invest in the life of a child by participating in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.
- Volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club.
- Help at the Salvation Army.
- Google “programs for troubled teens,” get involved in your community, and take your own children along as you go.
- Welcome people from troubled circumstances into your churches and your lives.
- When you see a need, meet it.
- Don’t merely offer a hand-out. Offer a hand-up.
- Help those in need connect with organizations offering help.
- Men, participate in organizations that offer mentoring for sons of single moms. Be the godly, masculine influence boys need.
- Women, offer small group sessions in godly womanhood. Teach young girls about make-up, modesty, and the value of their bodies to God.
- Did your mama teach you about good manners? Pass it along. For students who haven’t experienced the social graces, offer to help them learn which fork to use at a fancy dinner as well as simple good manners.
How to Stop School Shootings: Don’t just pray
The thousands of people directly impacted by the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas need our prayers today and for years to come. The sound of gunfire will echo in heads, hearts, and dreams for a long time.
We must pray, but it’s time our prayers moved our feet to action.
Want to know how to end school shootings and how to help end teen violence? Get to know those who work with troubled teens. Ask how you can help, then do it. When someone puts out a call for volunteers, step up. You don’t have to be an expert. God uses the ones who show up, even when they don’t feel equipped. Help anyway. If you’re willing to love, you can make a difference.
One day, we’ll answer for what we didn’t do.
It’s not enough to feel outraged about a school shooting or to grieve for the lives lost, nor is it enough to pray without action. What we don’t do matters as much as what we do. One Scripture drives me to action. May it do the same for all of us.
“The King will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me…For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick in prison and you did not look after me…’ Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Matthew 25:41-45
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