Gun Violence-What to Say to Kids

11. November, 2017

Dr John Mayer


How to Talk to Kids About Gun Violence


Here is the complete interview I did for a reporter that became an article that appeared on the website, Reporters incorporate only parts of these interviews. But, here you can read everything I said on this subject.

How to Talk to Kids About Gun Violence
Lisa Milbrand
November 7, 2017
My entire, unedited interview:
  1. How can we reassure kids about gun violence, when they keep seeing and hearing stories like this?

Reassuring our children in these turbulent and violent times is a paramount question for parenting! I advise parents on this issue all the time and my advice is to always, always say to your children: “We (parents) will never take you anywhere or put you in any place where there is danger. That is our primary job as parents, to protect you. We will always keep you safe.” I instruct parents to put that in your own words, but that fundamental message of SAFETY is critical to make sure your children hear!!!  I also advise to add on something like: “We live where we do because we have thought carefully that this is a safe area and we don’t travel into areas that are not safe. Our job is to protect you at all times!”


  1. How should parents who own guns talk about guns with their kids in situations like these?

I am responding here objectively and without judgment about owning a gun or not. I feel that parents who own guns have a responsibility to teach gun safety, ownership, and the appropriate utility of guns to their children. A gun shouldn’t just exist in the household and parents assume that children will be OK with it being there and/or know all they should about that weapon(s). This is the most important thing: Don’t assume that children have a concept or set of concepts about that gun being in the house. Be a teacher! If you don’t become a teacher about what YOUR FAMILY’s concept or orientation toward guns are then children will make up their own concepts and these are almost guaranteed to be immature and inaccurate of what your values are about guns and gun ownership.

  1. What should parents say to kids in different age groups (i.e. elementary-aged kids vs. teens)?

I assume you mean about the gun violence question as per your first question. First, let me answer that. ALL ages of children should be given the message as I stated in your first question. The most important age differential here is that parents often assume (see above) that older children do not need that fundamental safety issue as I elaborated on in the first answer. This is WRONG! Older children need that reassurance just as often and vigorously as younger children. So, age differences do not matter in regard to your response to gun violence in the news.

But, let me also answer about age differences in regard to family gun ownership. Responsible and safe gun ownership should be taught and practiced from very early on. Again, here, the biggest failing of parents is assuming that small children do not need education about the guns in the house. In Chicago, the base of my practice, we have incidences of children harming themselves or a playmate with a gun several times each year. Small children do not need long explanations about the social and psychological ramifications of gun violence erupting in our society, thus, prior to age 12 keep your concerns with your children focused on who you as parents will keep them safe. From 12 to 15/16, you can talk about the issues in larger society, how this is wrong and immoral to take another’s life and to use guns inappropriately. In older adolescents and young adults, it is important to discuss the social/political and moral issues about gun violence. These age breakdowns follow the different stages of cognitive development in children and young people and when their brain can actually think about the issues I delineated.  

  1. What other advice do you have about helping kids process gun violence?

In any of the above answers please do not worry or argue that “But, there are no guarantees that we can always protect our children from gun violence.” While we as adults may know that is true, bringing in these doubts is not a helpful opinion to convey. The question is what is the best approach and I am giving that ‘expert’ answer, directly and practically.

The parents I advise have found it very helpful when I have advised them to talk to their children of all ages to ‘put in perspective’ the news of gun violence that they hear about. I advise this is several ways. One way is to point out that these occurrences are still rare and not a part of daily living. Another perspective s to point out that because we hear news from places far away in today’s world these incidents seem closer to us than ever before, but historically, violence has occurred in our world but often we wouldn’t hear about it and ear about it so immediately.


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