It doesn't have to happen

Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 8, 1998

It doesn't have to happen

We all deal with sadness, anger, grief and other emotions throughout our lives. Most times we can deal with these emotions on our own. But sometimes, these emotions become too big to take on alone.

by Jeanne Labozetta

It's been another week of tragedy.

Collectively we grieve as another small town mourns the death of four children and a dedicated teacher at the hands of a preteen gunman. Closer to home, we shook our heads when we learned that a Daly City mother suffocated her three young daughters. We were shocked to learn that a Peninsula boy had shot at his principal in a crowded schoolyard in retaliation for a suspension. Fortunately, no one was harmed in this incident, though it was mere luck that the bullet hit only a wall.

Whenever tragedies like these happen we long for someone or something to blame--the parents, the school, the media, video games, junk food. The truth we come back to is there is no easy answer.

The other unavoidable truth is that none of these incidents had to happen. Rage and pain lead to events like this. Despair and loneliness can become overwhelming, blinding a person to other options.

A boy arrested for a massacre similar to the one in Jonesboro was asked in a television interview what he would do differently if he could relive the day he killed his classmates. Tell somebody how he felt, he said. And if that person didn't listen, he would tell someone else and keep talking until he found someone to listen to his pain and take him seriously.

Too often we read of another act of violence by a disgruntled employee or disturbed student. There are warning signs that a person may become violent. If you notice any of these symptoms in a co-worker, classmate or student, notify someone immediately. Treat all threats of violence or suicide as serious.

Significant changes in behavior. A decrease or inconsistency in the quality or productivity of work. Excessive demand on a supervisor's time. Emotional isolation from co-workers or other students. Difficulties concentrating. Deteriorating personal grooming. Erratic/aggressive behavior. Fascination with weapons. Paranoid or irrational ideas. Romantic obsession. Specific threats of violence. This is what Family Service Mid-Peninsula and many others organizations in the Bay Area will do. There are hotlines, like our TeenLine and Parental Stress Hotline, one can call just to talk over problems. There are counselors and therapists and clergy members trained to help people talk though the pain and hurt. There are parenting classes to help mothers and fathers deal with the incredible responsibility of raising a child. There are people who can help children learn to express anger in appropriate, nonviolent ways. There are friends and family who will listen and may be able to help if given a chance.

The resources are all around us. All anyone has to do is pick up a phone and make a call. It didn't have to happen in Arkansas. It didn't have to happen in Daly City. It doesn't have to happen in the future. If you need help, please call the Teenline at 327-TEEN or (408) 993-TEEN or the Parental Stress Hotline at 327-3333 or (408) 993-8336. Calls are free and confidential.

Jeanne C. Labozetta, LMFCC, is the President & CEO of Family Service Mid-Peninsula in Palo Alto. 

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