Gary Horton | Protect Our Kids in Everyday Settings, Too

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Our community is healing from the Saugus school shooting. We’ve come together and are committed to coming out of this a stronger community. This was a huge loss, and thank you to all those working so hard to rebuild shattered and impacted lives. 

There is nothing to minimize in the shooting. 

And, there also needs to be a recognition that the fear generated from shootings far exceeds the actual risks children face in schools. 

Since 2015, there have been only six shooting deaths in California schools, including Saugus. There have been 19 school shooting deaths in the U.S. in 2019. There have been 170 shooting deaths in all U.S. schools since Sandy Hook in December 2012. 

We must move past the fear: The risks our children face in daily living very far exceed any risks we perceive about school gun death.

Understandably, parents are hyper-vigilant, fearing more gunfire inside school grounds. Yet, there are so many pragmatic additional ways parents can protect kids from extremely pervasive mortal risks.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports these statistics for adolescent deaths in 2016:

• Motor vehicle crashes: 4,074

• Firearm homicides (outside schools) 1,855

• Firearm suicide: 1,102

• Firearm unintentional: 176

• Suffocation suicides: 1,110

• Suffocation unintentional: 235

• Drowning: 995

• Drug suicide: 123

• Drug overdose unintentional: 761

• Fire or burns: 340

And every year, some 800,000 children are treated for concussions and traumatic brain injuries, leaving 30,000 with permanent impairment and some 2,400 dead. Falling, and hitting heads on hard objects (or hard objects hitting heads) are the most common serious risk to our children.

Santa Clarita is no exception to these statistics: Just last weekend two young kids were burned to death in a car crash in Stevenson Ranch. Last year, multiple kids were killed here in pedestrian accidents. We’ve had waves of drug overdoses, far too many suicides — and unrelenting, absolutely unrelenting fatal car crashes every week, all keeping our Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital trauma center in constant activity. Bluntly, we’re surrounded by a preventable slaughter of our children due to mistakes and misguided parental actions.

Driving safety, at-home gun safety, psychological well-being and care, pool safety, drug abuse protection, and head injury protection with sports, bikes, bathtubs and pools – this is the everyday work of real-world effective protection and safety for our kids.

We rightly fear guns in schools, and parents I also say to you: Fear what happens in cars at least as much. Fear your pool or your neighbor’s pool. Fear the creeping of drugs and alcohol abuse into your families. Keep your kids out of gangs. Lock up any personal guns – or don’t have them at all. And for God’s sake, fear for your kids’ very vulnerable heads. I know. My daughter is a traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor and we’re beyond lucky to still have her.

Put your phone away when driving. Put it away! Don’t let your kids drive until they’re emotionally ready. Put speed monitors on the car. Don’t let them stay out late. For God’s sake, don’t drink and drive yourself, and stop your kids cold should you ever suspect it of them. Obey speed limits and stay alert as a defensive driver. The physics of accidents over 55 mph are terrifying.

Some folks have lots of accidents and some have none. Why? Driving behaviors. Drive cautiously and keep your family safe!

Fence and lock your pool. Always have an adult around smaller kids and pools. Don’t let kids run on pool decks. These are the little things that save lives.

Suicide is a huge problem. If you’re sensing something amiss with your child – open up, talk, and if you aren’t getting through, bring in counselors quickly. There’s no shame in sitting on a sofa working through problems with someone trained to help. Sofa sitting beats church pew sitting at a funeral.

After such a tragedy as the Saugus shooting, we’re right to be vigilant. To respond pragmatically, commit to following the common-sense advice I’ve shared on the most likely ways your children may be seriously hurt.

Back to my daughter’s traumatic brain injury: Katie crossed a busy street in India and failed to see a motorcycle, which hit her. Brain surgery, and 30 days in an Indian hospital later, we got Katie home and today, four years later, after therapy and healing and a whole lot of love and tremendous effort on her part, she’s living her best life ever. But we were lucky, blessed and fortunate. Most are not.

When I see kids — or anyone — riding bikes without helmets, or running on wet surfaces, or driving and texting – I recoil and freak out. When you’ve lived the reality, you know just how it can strike.

Parents, reality strikes. Reality strikes in everyday settings you take for granted, and where you, yourself actually control outcomes. Correctly manage the common, real-world risks and your kids should be just fine.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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