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"Are We Safe?"

A Critical Parent Conversation about School Violence

Today, almost 100 million parents woke up with fresh anxiety to start the day. It’s not “Sunday Scaries” or “First Day of School” jitters – it’s a question about whether their kiddo would come home that evening from school. In the wake of continued school violence and mass shootings, it’s the question every student (and parent) is asking - "Are we safe?"

Columbine. Sandy Hook. Parkland. Names that are forever haunted by the murders that took place in their hallways. Schools were long thought to be sanctuaries of safety, yet the pages of history continue to be filled with the horrors of the mental health crises in our country. SADD Nation grieves with the families of Robb Elementary and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the parents, students, and school personnel across this country. They feel the unbearable anxiety that comes with entering the classroom. Our work is to engage parents and other adult allies struggling to answer the question of safety and engage in a meaningful dialogue with their students as we cope with this horror together.

Start Talking

There has never been a more critical time for a daily check-in with the students in your lives. A pandemic. A world war. Political strife. Continued violence. Most young people have never known a world without crises. Make sure this is not a “one and done” conversation but a deeper daily check-in to inquire into their physical, emotional, and mental state. If you need some tips on starting this conversation, check out the SADD Mental Health Toolkit. Making the conversation age-appropriate is vital, and our toolkit helps you find the right starting point – chances are they know more than you know.

Acknowledge the Feeling

We have a phobia of feelings in this country – be honest with your student, and sharing how your feeling is a great way to knock down the walls and dive into open dialogue. You can say things like, “watching the news about another school shooting makes me feel ______. How are you feeling?”

Grapple with the Fear of the Unknown

There is nothing more terrifying than the fear of the unknown, especially for students trying to make sense of a world around them that quite frankly doesn’t make sense. Do not use phrases like “you’ll be fine” or “it won’t happen here.” Instead, talk about the actionable steps that schools are taking. Highlight your school’s safety plan and listen to their concerns. Your patience is crucial and will help you better understand their perspective.

Talk about Mental Health

America is facing a mental health crisis. Read that again. You must talk with your students about their mental health, the mental health of those in their friend circle, and beyond. We know that most perpetrators of violence give clear signs of their intentions.

Our students play a crucial role in checking in on one another, and we need more of that. Talk with your student about how they can be friends with those in their social circles. If they know that someone is having a tough time, that’s the moment to talk with a School Counselor or other mental health professional. Friendship means looking out for each other, which has never been more critical than right now.


We need more mental health resources, especially in our schools. SADD is proud to lead the fight to provide additional counseling, mental health, and crisis resources to schools. As a former School Board Member, I encourage you to ask your elected officials how your district responds and advocate for additional resources. Our students need you.

The world is a dark and scary place, especially for our students who cannot escape the landscape of crises. Keep the conversation going and be prepared to answer the question coming your way – “Are we safe?"

Rick Birt

President & CEO


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