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Apodaca: Parents need to talk to kids in wake of shooting

July 28, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

My sons attended a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises."

For many months, my 17-year-old in particular had excitedly anticipated the film, buying his ticket weeks in advance.

He joined a large group of friends to camp out at Big Newport more than a day before the movie's debut, returning home on occasion to shower and pick up board games.

I'd drive by the theater from time to time to check up on the kids. I found the scene to be spirited and playful. A few tossed balls around to kill time; some wore costumes.

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It was a happy scene.

Part way through the screening, a technical glitch in the sound system surfaced, and it soon became apparent to theater management that the problem couldn't be resolved quickly. The disappointed audience members were issued vouchers to return another time.

Later that morning, we heard the news that a masked shooter had gunned down moviegoers at another midnight showing in Colorado. Suddenly, my sons' frustrations over their suspended screening faded to insignificance.

For me as a parent, it was another heartbreaking reminder that inexplicable horror can occur any time, anywhere.

We do everything we can to keep our kids safe. We slather on the sunscreen, teach them to look both ways before crossing and practice numerous scenarios for dealings with strangers. We monitor their friendships, check their breath, and say silent prayers each time they walk out the door.

Yet the cold reality is that we can never shield our children from all the bad in the world, and that is the bane of our existence.

We can argue over gun laws, violence in the media and even whether moviegoers should be restricted from wearing costumes.

Nevertheless, danger will always exist, sometimes in the most unexpected places, and that is the ever-present curse, the evil twin to parenthood's abundant joy.

So how do we keep fear from overtaking us at times like this? How do we navigate that fine line between conscientious parenting and counterproductive hovering? And how do we know if our kids are harboring their own deep-seated stress related to the knowledge that tragedy can strike at any random moment?

I put those questions to Jerry Weichman, the Newport Beach psychologist who has made it his life's work to help youths and their families cope in a complex and confusing world.

Like my sons, many of Weichman's clients had been looking forward to the "Dark Knight" for weeks.

"All the kids were excited about it, male and female," he said. "This was a big deal for them."

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