Isla Vista attack: Parents need to table anger to coach kids through tragedy

The Isla Vista shooting has left in its wakes a lot of anger and finger pointing. What parents need to show their kids is when tragedy happens, there is a perspective beyond and above the anger.

Chris Carlson/AP
The crowd listens during a memorial service for the victims and families of Friday's rampage at Harder Stadium on the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara in the Isla Vista area near Goleta, Calif. on Tuesday, May 27.

In the days since Elliot Rodger, a mentally disturbed young man, went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, Calif., many adults have become Rodger’s unwitting accomplices. Finger pointing seems to have only increased the sense of tragedy and anger related to his spree, leaving an opportunity to teach children how to cope with tragedy unfulfilled.

Both the news and social media have been overflowing with what seems to be an unusual abundance and variety of name-calling, stemming from this tragic event that claimed the lives of six University of California Santa Barbara students allegedly killed by Elliot Rodger on Friday during a rampage through Isla Vista.

Sadly, it’s become all too easy for onlookers to take aim at others as they look at the events through their own personal anger and frustration.

We all have our own perspectives which shape how we see this tragedy, whether through its victims, what they represent, or through Rodger’s personal hatred, published in his scathing, widely-read manifesto. 

I’m a woman in my late 40s who feels I have been bullied frequently by men throughout my life, and am coping with more than one male family member suffering from diagnosed mental illness.

However, I’m also the mom of four boys, the youngest of whom has been diagnosed with mild Asperger Syndrome, which some news reports say Rodger may have had.

Therefore, when I see this kind of news event and aftermath, I am thinking about how I can help steer my sons around all the anger and stereotyping they see in the media.

I was asked by my 10-year-old – who has his own Twitter account and is very sensitive to the “girls vs. boys” attitude that can permeate elementary school life – what was up with the anti-guy rants posting all of a sudden.

Quin adores girls and when one rejects him he cries, regroups, and picks another flower from our garden to give to the next girl. He’s confident that, “If you go by math and the law of averages, one of them is going to take the flower sooner or later.”

Whether or not elementary school girls are savvy enough to close ranks against boys because of the #YesAllWomen campaign on Twitter seems farfetched. Nonetheless, Quin hopes to breach the anti-boy wall with a daisy today.

After my son helped me lay down my own causes for a moment, and look at what my kids are seeing, I now understand we are looking at a very disturbed young man (Rodger) whose actions came from his cracked lens of perception.

Rodger’s 141-page manifesto against women and a YouTube rant video immediately resulted in the creation of the popular #YesAllWomen campaign and discussions about sexism.

However, as one of my teenage sons pointed out after seeing the #YesTo All Women hashtag, “He may have hated women more but more men than women actually died in his [Rodger’s] attack.”

According to reports, Rodger stabbed to death three young men in his apartment, shot two women to death outside a sorority house and killed another man inside a deli with gunfire before apparently killing himself near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, on Friday.

Richard Martinez lost his son Christopher, age 20, in the attack and had the singular right to vent as he stood weeping and shaking before the media. He laid the blame for his son’s murder where he believes it belongs:  "Craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA." 

I have a son at college and I would be an out-of-control raging blame generator if the unthinkable were to happen, as it did to the Martinez family.

However, everyone who was not directly affected by this event may want to reevaluate their focus and reduce their social rage-mode for the good of the kids.

Sadly, today brings yet another cracked lens to bear on Rodger as headlines focus on Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday for her “review” of the killer’s YouTube rant.

Ms. Hornaday chose to “review” the killer’s YouTube video rant as if it were one of his father’s Hollywood films.

Hornaday made what my celebrity-watching, fashion designer mother would call a “red carpet walk of shame decision” that has infuriated celebrities who now feel the need to defend their profession and Rodger’s father.

For me, the Isla Vista shootings have turned into a cacophony of anger and blaming, while tuning out the reason needed to help coach our kids through a tragedy.

I feel like the parent who hears a crash and cries of “you did this” and “this is all HER or HIS fault” ring off the walls instead of paying attention to a child who lies injured in the midst of the din.

Despite my own deep feelings about mental illness, gun control, and the role of women in society, I realize I have to stop myself and reflect on what my sons are taking away from the events of the day and the aftermath.

As Maya Angelou said, "Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not yet solved one."

I don’t want to teach my sons what anger means through my actions.

In my opinion, it’s anger that has contributed heavily to making headlines like those connected to the Isla Vista tragedy.

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