How to Help Kids Cope With Witnessing a Shooting Live on Facebook

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Last week, like many of us, I was horrified as I watched tweets and posts showing a gunman in the act of shooting two members of a Virginia news crew. WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were shot dead while on air filming a morning segment. Many media outlets chose not to post the actual video of the killings, but unfortunately, CNN, Mediate, and others did.

In the age of social media, it was tragic news impossible to ignore. Whether you wanted to see it or not, if you were online it was absolutely unavoidable.

And I believe, this is exactly what the killer wanted. He wanted everyone to see the gruesome manner in which he chose to take the lives of two innocent people. He even went so far as to post his own first person POV video to his Facebook and Twitter. It is indescribably horrible. I believe you’ll regret it if you watch it.

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In the span of just a few minutes, two people were shot dead on live TV and the gunman tweeted and posted the video on Twitter and Facebook. Fortunately, both Twitter and Facebook took down or disabled his accounts quickly, but the damage had already been done. And everyone online was witness to the horror.

Knowing that the gunman videotaped the slaughter of innocent people and showed it to the world, one has to ask what role social media played in this man’s violent acts. This, as Charles Cooke put it, was the first social media killing.



Just last week, here at PJ Parenting I wrote a post with a few tips about how to keep your kids safe online. Most of the responses I received were positive, but there were a few who expressed that because I don’t allow my youngest child to have social media or unfettered access to the Internet, they believe I am too strict and too overbearing. One mom let me know that she thought I was harming my child because I was allowing her to be naive. Another comment just this morning said basically, kids are going to go there, so there’s no use trying to stop them.

To the first point about being naive — would it be so awful for my child not to witness a gruesome act of murder by an apparently crazy man? She doesn’t live in a vacuum. She knows evil exists, but does she actually have to witness it to make it real to her? She is, after all, only 12. She still has a wonderful spirit and a positive outlook on the world. She is beautiful and precious and still has hope for humanity. I want to preserve, protect, and encourage those traits in her as long as possible and I cannot see how allowing access to social media would be a positive influence to her whatsoever.

To the second point — yes, my daughter will eventually have social media access, and yes, with supervision she is allowed to be on the Internet when needed for homework or other school related activities. But no, I will not let her have Twitter and Facebook (or any other social media) now, at the age of 12. Nor will she be allowed to just surf the net watching YouTube videos or anything else.

I am online most of the day due to my job, and the more I’m online, the more I’m convinced that it is a breeding ground for just about everything I want to guard my children against. Bullying, pornography, drama, violence, etc., are rampant online — especially on social media, and today was just another example of why I’m protective.

I watched grown men on Twitter and Facebook post about being nauseated after viewing their timelines this morning. Grown men. One of which is a veteran who served in Iraq. I’m sorry, but if they struggled watching today’s atrocities unfold, I’m certain my daughter would have been harmed as well.  We have age ratings for violent video games, but if your children were online this morning, there’s nothing that would have protected them from seeing today’s real life first person shooter video.

It is my job as a parent to protect my children from harm. So for those who thought I was overbearing and too strict for not allowing my 12-year-old daughter social media access, I’ll just be over here remaining in the ‘too strict’ camp with my daughter (who is actually in the garden right now gleaning cucumbers).

Sometimes the world online is ugly and awful. Today was one of those days where spending time online likely made you die a bit inside.

Do yourself a favor — get offline, go outside, hug your children, invest in their happiness. Do good for someone today. It will be time well spent and that you won’t regret. Promise.

Read some practical tips for handling social media here:

4 Things You Can Do Right Now to Keep Your Kids Safe Online