VOLUME 30, NUMBER 30 THURSDAY, April 29, 1999

send this article to a friend Thomas Frantz is chair of the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology in the Graduate School of Education. He has spent 25 years working in the areas of bereavement, mourning, grief, suicide, murder, coping with death, stress, counseling and related issues.

What is the greatest challenge facing the students who survived the Colorado school shootings?
To learn to trust again. Most of us go to work or school each day feeling relatively safe in our workplace or in our school. We don't even think about it. We automatically feel safe. High-school kids don't think about dying much. And all of a sudden this unthinkable death invades their school, their friends, their classroom. And it tends to pull the rug out from underneath their trust and their faith in the world. All of a sudden you can't assume you're safe. So it's going to be hard to develop that faith and trust again. It's going to be hard to get free of the fear that this could happen again. The advantage of being young is that gradually that will dissipate. We usually find that when a tragedy hits a school, the effects are keenly felt during the remainder of that school year. When a new year starts, much of the effect of the previous year's tragedy is gone; it's like starting over.

What do you think of reports that Columbine High School may be demolished, or at the least not reopen?
Ordinarily I think that would be a mistake. An unusual, extraordinary event has happened and it creates a lot of fear. How do you combat fear? Fear breeds in the unknown. You can reduce fear by making the unknown known. When things are thrown off-kilter, if you can get back to routines it makes people feel safer-back to the usual, back to the known, back to the regular, back to the normal. So that ordinarily in a school-let's say a student has committed suicide or a student has been murdered-we want to open the school the next day and we want all the kids to come to school because normally you go to school. Plus, the school can be equipped with counselors and psychologists to deal with the emotional trauma. So ordinarily, we wouldn't want to close the school or tear it down, that would be almost letting the tragedy, the evil take over. And when I say get back to normal, I don't mean gloss over as if it never happened. I just mean get as much as you can back to normal as soon as you can while you deal with it.

How can counselors and family members help young people who have faced this kind of tragedy?
We don't want to feed the fear; we don't want to make it worse. So that means that we want to provide as much security and safety and normalcy as we can. That will reduce the fear. And to listen to their kids, support their kids and not give their kids advice. Tragedies are not a time for advice; they're a time to listen, support.

How could the two boys who committed these crimes become so alienated, yet no one seemed to recognize that they needed help?
There were people that recognized it; there almost always are. The issue isn't that they don't recognize it; the issue is that they don't do anything about it. We have in our country what some people call the "Kitty Genovese phenomenon;" we stand around and watch but we don't intervene, even though we know something terrible has happened. In my limited understanding of the Colorado tragedy, there were a number of people who were aware these kids were behaving in unusual ways, amassing weapons, talking about things they would do. They just either didn't know what to do or chose not to do anything. So I think the issue is not recognizing, the issue is how do we get people in our country to take the risk of helping each other.

What are some of the warning signs that a kid is seriously troubled and needs help?
Any change in behavior is a sign that something is going on, something is not usual. This person's behavior is changing: they're acting out more, they're swearing more, they're late for school, they're dressing differently. It's all a sign that something's happening. And so the thing to do is to find out what's going on by talking to the child. Usually teenagers will begin to talk differently, they'll make bizarre comments or they'll make cryptic remarks that beg follow-up. Very often they'll begin to withdraw from some of the things they're involved in. And they also maintain some level of secrecy.

What could have been done to help those two boys before this tragedy happened?
The first step: somebody has to notice that something is going on with these kids. Pay attention to kids. And then when you notice something, you have to follow up by connecting with the teenager. If you recognize that they're hurting, that they're alienated, that they feel alone, put upon, mocked out-these are all things one can recognize. When you recognize that your child is hurting-and I'd say these boys were hurting a lot, they were in pain-the intervention that will work is to connect with them, to let the student know that you're aware and that you care. Every time we do this with a teenager, we throw them a lifeline, we make a connection, we let them know they're not so alone, we do pay attention, they are important. And then they're less likely to feel the need to get attention some other way.

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