How do we protect kids from the nightmare of violence?

Mourners reacted at a vigil for Las Vegas victims Monday.
Mourners reacted at a vigil for Las Vegas victims Monday.

Here is some healthy advice for typical American parents who might be just like me. Don’t watch videos of mass shootings before bed. Believe the news, but don’t watch the footage. And don’t spend the midnight hours watching PSAs put out by the FBI to tell you what you and your children should do in the face of a lone gunman at your school, your workplace, or your local restaurant.

I am a squeamish type who defines reality by words, not images. The language alone is enough to make me lose sleep. I was part of a team at the Globe who wrote about the cultural influences of the Columbine mass shooters in 1999. I wrote two pieces about Internet influences but didn’t look at the photos of the carnage. Again, words said it all. And that was before I had kids.

But the shooting in Las Vegas was different. How could anyone possibly kill 58 people and injure 500 more in about 10 minutes? It was incomprehensible to me. So before the news broke that the murderer was shooting from a hotel room 32 floors above his innocent victims, I watched the videos posted online, wondering how anyone in the midst of the mayhem actually had the time and the guts to film it.


I then watched videos posted by a friend who is a black-belt martial arts expert who consults with the FBI on self-defense. Those videos were graphic and realistic, with a narrator explaining matter-of-factly that victims of mass shootings are usually random. Those calm words were uttered as an actor shot down people having a cup of coffee or sharing a few minutes with a professor.

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The advice was simple: Run, hide, fight. That is the same advice given to the students at my kids’ high school, who are given what is known as ALICE training. The acronym stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. It’s pretty much the same thing as the FBI suggests: Get the hell out, get in a safe place, and fight if you must.

I had discussions with my kids after the Las Vegas tragedy. They talked about it in school. I thought I was fine. But the night after the tragedy, my dreams were full of the kind of violent imagery I avoid. My dreamscape was haunted by the footage I had absorbed, not just of Las Vegas but also the wreckage of Puerto Rico and Texas after hurricanes Maria and Harvey.

Here is my surreal dreamscape. In the first scene, I was in the middle of a mass shooting with my daughter. She managed to get into a safe room, and they locked the door. She desperately wanted to let me in, but it wasn’t OK to open the door. Segue to another scene. I was carjacked by a mass shooter, and my sister and daughter were running after the car. Shift dreams. I encounter a huge flood at an old apartment of mine in Cambridge, now occupied by Puerto Ricans who were devastated and helpless. Shift gears: A lone gunman holds me up at gunpoint with an Uzi, and nobody stops to help.

I couldn’t scream in the dream, but apparently I could in real life because my husband held me and told me it was all OK, and everyone was fine.


And here is the weirdest part. I went back to sleep and dreamed I was on “Wheel of Fortune.” I won the jackpot with the phrase “Dow Jones Industrial Average.”

You could say I am a poster child for Freud. But really, nobody needs to analyze these dreams. We know what they are about. We all worry about our kids as we live in this current climate of hate. We are living in a time of unprecedented natural disasters, brought on by climate change that many deny, with inadequate empathy from the top office that seems to care more about stock prices than our children’s future.

We are living in a time when a single person can buy dozens of weapons of mass destruction and unleash them on an innocent crowd. We are living at a time when our children need to understand “run, hide, fight.” We are living in a time when parents like me are unnerved and dream about protecting our children.

We need them to give them a future with sweet dreams, not nightmares. It’s time to wake up.

Patti Hartigan can be reached at