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Colorado shooting: How parents can find balance with teenagers

In the wake of the shootings in Aurora, Colo., parents can create a balance between overprotective parenting and a rational response to the recent tragedy.

By Guest bloggers / July 23, 2012

The crowd listens to speakers on July 22, 2012, in Aurora, Colo., at a prayer vigil for the victims of Friday's shooting at a movie theater during which 12 people were killed and 58 were injured.

Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/AP

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Just a few days ago you would not have thought twice about your child’s request to spend the day at the movies with his friends. Perhaps you have already approved this plan. Now, you are anxious and stressed. You don’t want to disappoint your son or even worse make him feel the anxiety and fear that you are currently experiencing. You are left, however, feeling stuck in a real quandary.

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Talking Teenage

Jennifer Powell-Lunder (l.) and Barbara Greenberg (r.) are practicing psychologists specializing in adolescent issues. Both have been published widely and appear regularly in the print and broadcast media as teen experts. They blog together at Talking Teenage.

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Since the shootings in Aurora, Colo., you now have one more concern regarding your child’s safety to consider.

In reality you are indeed a rational and intelligent individual. You know that as time passes the fear and anxiety about allowing your kids to go to the movies will  quell. Your concerns, however, are not so far fetched. It is not uncommon for there to be a succession of "copy cat" incidents after a major incident such as this occurs.

We all remember Columbine. In the aftermath of that tragedy, there were a series of similar incidents and near incidents reported. Indeed, stories of kids making threats to attack their schools or episodes of kids carrying weapons to school still make the local and, on occasion, the national news.

So, what is a parent to do? How can you create a balance between overprotective parenting and a rational response to the recent tragedy?

Here are a few things to consider:

1. Has your local community reacted? There is no doubt that, in an effort to protect patrons and promote business, many movie theaters will set up their own safety responses. It is sad to think that you may have to resign yourself to a pat down for weapons when you go to enjoy a favorite summer pastime.

2. How have your kids reacted? Do they seem anxious, concerned or fearful about this recent incident? It is important to check with them. Due to the media coverage, news of the events is hard to miss. A good time to discuss this with them is while watching the news coverage. Hear them out. Listen to what they have to say. This will give you a gauge of what they may be experiencing internally.

3. Simply saying "no" to a summer blockbuster may be the easy way to avoid dealing with your own anxiety, but is it rational or even plausible? If your child has had her heart set on going to a specific movie, such a proclamation could cause much controversy and strife. Your kids may be less concerned than you are about the thought of a similar incident occurring somewhere else, especially in their hometown. Kids have an uncanny way of being able to perceive things that happen to others as discreet incidents that do not directly affect them. Focus instead on creating a plan that satisfies both of you.

4. Consider a compromise. Perhaps under normal circumstances you would not expect your tween or teen to check in with you so frequently if he was going to a movie with his friends. Instead of barring him from attending completely, come up with a plan that assuages your anxiety but allows him to enjoy a movie. Toward this end, perhaps you would feel more comfortable if you waited in the movie theater parking lot while he and his friend watch the movie. Maybe you would rather sit in the theater with him. If in the past you were open to simply dropping him off at the start and picking him up at the end, chances are your presence in the theater will not go over too well. After all, he does have a reputation to keep up with his friends. Offer a compromise by agreeing not to sit too close.

If your daughter is a teen, you may want to request that she check in with you a few times via text during the movie. Ask her to put her phone on silent but request that she not turn it off. Just knowing you have a direct line of communication may help you feel better.

There is no doubt that in the aftermath of this horrible tragedy there will be new tension and concern related to movie going. Perhaps the focus will simply center on specific types of movies, such as superheroes and fantasy crusaders. Maybe a conversation about the violence portrayed on the big screen will result in new screening policies. At minimum, there will surely be a new interest on safety in the movie theater. It is sad to think that as a result of one man’s violent acts we will have to rethink how we respond to our children when they want to go to a movie.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg blogs at Talking Teenage.

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