School Shootings: How The Imagine Project Can Make a Difference

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Sadly, anyone with a child, friend, or relative in a school today worries if they will be safe. Unfortunately, the fear of a student being hurt by gun violence has become very real and prevalent. After picking ourselves up from yet another school shooting we have to seriously look at what we can do to help dissolve this horrific issue.

Profiles of School Shooters

What is it that causes a school shooter to do such an unthinkable act? Research has shown many common problems and characteristics of those who commit this violent act. School shooters often harbor anger and delusions about themselves and those around them. They frequently have abuse in their backgrounds and/or ineffective parenting. They experience low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, lack of empathy, and difficultly establishing and maintaining friends. Many have shown previous violence to others and/or animals and are obsessed with violent video games and previous school shootings. They also seem “troubled” and have varying degrees of mental illness.

How can we help?

Imagine being able to deter these kids (most often boys) from going down the path of violence? Helping them express and work through their emotions (as early as possible), process any past or current trauma, teach them empathy for others, empower them, and watch for possible mental health issues can make a difference. One tool that supports improving all of these issues/concerns is The Imagine Project, an expressive writing activity for students in schools, youth organizations, or even at home.

The Imagine Project is a simple yet profound 7-step process that helps kids write and talk about difficult life experiences. In a classroom, group, or even on their own, a student writes their story using The Imagine Journal, where every sentence begins with the word Imagine… It’s a powerful process that gives kids an opportunity to express what’s in their hearts, work through how they feel, process their experiences, and imagine a new story in its place. There are 4 journals for kids K-12 and adults; all are available to download for free at www.theimagineproject.org.

After using the journaling process with thousands of kids, many kids tell us they love being able to express themselves and speak what’s in their hearts. “I put my anger on paper instead of keeping it inside,” said a very articulate 6th grader. “It was hard to write about my emotions but it was worth it, it’s important to tell your story,” said Emily, 10th grade. The Imagine Project is a healthy, life-long tool that kids (and adults) can use to work through emotions, difficult life challenges, and in turn empower them to believe in themselves and new possibilities in their lives. Sadly, there are very few acceptable tools kids are taught to kids, to help them work through difficult life experiences, talk about emotions, and feel empowered. Most often emotions and tools are not even talked about in classrooms. It’s time to talk about it. The Imagine Project journaling process is a simple and free activity kids can use every day to help them when they are feeling overwhelmed and/or upset about life.

Teachers also tell us that using The Imagine Project promotes and teaches empathy and camaraderie in a classroom or within a group of kids. Many students have reported back to their teachers, and to me, that listening to the other kids read their stories out loud helped them realize that the other student is human too; they act the way they do because of their own experiences. Hearing other kid’s stories brings intense compassion and empathy for those reading. It brings students closer, helps form new friendships, trust, and “a family like feeling” in schools. It’s a perfect opportunity for teachers or youth leaders to teach the kids about compassion and empathy—some come by these traits naturally—but many need help learning them depending upon what they are taught at home.

Sam’s story

In one 5th grade classroom a boy named Sam read his Imagine story out loud to the rest of the class (this is encouraged). He talked about moving 6 times in 3 years and losing his dad when he was young. He was new to this school and was having a hard time finding friends. When the other kids heard his story they were shocked, they had no idea that was why he was so quiet and hard to play with. When they heard his story they purposefully made friends with him. The friendships didn’t last for a week, but for the rest of the year! We will never know how this might have changed the trajectory of his life, but it certainly made a positive impact.

Help for those that have been affected by a School Shooting or fear one in their future.

If a child, teacher, administration, parent, or anyone directly or indirectly has experienced a school shooting, it can be devastating. The Imagine Project can be utilized by teachers, counselors, or any other appropriate staff member who works with students. Imagine journaling is an opportunity to express their emotions, find comfort in others who feel the same, and join together to imagine a better future. For those students and educators who live in fear of a shooting happening in their school in can be helpful to write and find comfort in others who feel the same.

We are currently researching The Imagine Project, our experience thus far—after working with thousands of kids—shows that students are positively impacted by expressing emotion, having a deeper understanding of what’s happened in their lives, learn compassion and empathy, and realize there are better possibilities in their future. Teachers and youth leaders also learn more about a child’s story and will know when to refer them for mental health services.

A school shooting is a complicated, multifaceted issue that is far too prevalent in our society today. We need to look carefully at all aspects of causes and solutions. Providing an outlet for emotion, a voice for what’s in a child’s heart, empowering new hope and possibility, and teaching youth compassion and empathy through The Imagine Project just might change the trajectory of a troubled child’s life, help those who are impacted by a school shooting, and bring a useful tool to those who fear what is happening with our kids in the world today.

Thank you,

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.