Courageous Conversations: Kids, Parents, and Mental Health

SPRINGFIELD, Mo - We continue our Courageous Conversation tonight with a look past the gun control debate to focus on kids, parents, and mental health. Our political analyst Dr. Brian Calfano has more.

The National Rifle Association (or NRA) rejects just about every policy aimed at restricting gun ownership for law-abiding citizens. To address the nation's struggle with gun violence, the group advocates for more responsible parenting and mental health treatment. So, would these alternatives reduce gun violence in America? We take a look.

The NRA and its supporters often say that people kill people, not guns. But unraveling the personal causes behind gun violence, especially among youth, is almost impossible. 

There isn't just one explanation for why a teen or young adult inflicts harm on others. There are many.

The scientific research on the subject is complex, but a recent report shows that positives in a child's life, including good peer and adult relationships and support from adults, helps reduce the chances of teens turning to violence. 

It all seems to come down to cues or signals.

Dr. Kristen Thompson of Burrell behavioral health says it's the cue giver that changes over time. 

"So we know that young children are taking their cues from their parents, and teens are taking cues from their peers."

But Thompson says parents still have an important role to play for their teenagers.

"As you get into adolescence, the role of the parent shifts a little bit to monitoring who their with, monitoring what they're doing, and making safe space in their relationship for their teen to talk to them."

And that brings us to the "b" word. 

Thompson adds, "Bullying is enormous. That statistic is that 87 percent of kids who perpetrated a school shooting had an experience of severe bullying."

Few would oppose efforts to increase parental involvement in their kids' lives or increase access to mental health resources, but are these measures really enough?

One might argue they are, but only if parents use them to their full potential to blunt bullying and send positive cues.

Springfield public schools has invested in mental health services for its students. But Rhonda Mammen, Director of Counseling Services for the district says family engagement with these services is uneven.

"We have families that really depend on the school for all of their mental health needs. There are families that also do not want the school in their business at all, or they have their own resources." 

It seems a partnership between parents and schools is key. Parents should be able to choose to use school mental health resources for their children or not, but the public has a vested interest in whether parents are responsive to their kids' needs in the first place. This responsiveness may be something that gun rights advocates should also insist on.

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