DEBORAH AMOS, host:
We now turn to Dr. Joshua Sparrow. He's a child psychiatrist and the head of outpatient psychiatry at Children's Hospital Boston. And we called Dr. Sparrow to get his advice for parents who have been explaining the Virginia Tech tragedy to their children. Children of all ages may need some help in understanding what happened. He began by describing some of the reactions kids might have to the barrage of images from the Tech story.
Dr. JOSHUA SPARROW (Director, Outpatient Psychiatry, Children's Hospital Boston): The first thing is that children will become preoccupied with their own safety. Could this happen to me? Could this happen to the people who take care of me? Could this happen at my school? Second, there will be anxiety with separations. At bedtime, I don't want to go to sleep. I'm scared. I'm afraid. Will you stay with me? I'm scared of the dark. Or, I don't want to go to school because I'm scared of not being with you, who I can trust to make sure that I'll be okay; and because now I'm scared of what's going to happen at school.
I think for older kids, adolescents, college students, they will also be asking what do I do if I encounter someone who seems clearly mentally unhinged. And I think the answer to that is to not be paralyzed by fear and a sense of not being able to do anything, and to really carefully analyze what is it that is within your grasp to do and then be sure to do that.
AMOS: That was the best and most heartening part of some of those stories out of Virginia Tech, people who rose to the occasion, saved lives, were heroes.
Dr. SPARROW: That's right. Well, as Fred Rogers advised us to remind our children in times of crisis, look for the helpers.
AMOS: There's this story itself, which is horrific enough. But then we've had the impact of the video that was made by the shooter, and that has been repeating over and over again. Does that have a particular impact on children to see this young man in what almost looks like a movie pose?
Dr. SPARROW: Right. Well I have a number of concerns about that. First of all, we have seen in previous school shootings - and now with this one, too - the copycat phenomenon. I don't want to speculate about what was going on in this young man's mind, but one can perhaps guess that he was hungry to be heard. In fact, dying to be heard, if he went to this trouble to video himself and send it off in the midst of the killings. We also know that this young man, like some of the others, was very fascinated by other mass murderers. And so by providing children and adolescents with all of this exposure, I think that we run the risk of feeding that kind of curiosity in a very, very small number of children.
AMOS: Do you have advice for parents? Should they be sitting down everyday as this story plays out in the media with their kids?
Dr. SPARROW: Well I think the first piece of advice is to turn the TV off, and the second is to listen rather than to tell so that there is room for the child's questions. At times like this, the most important thing of all for us to do is to help our children hold on to their trust of us so that we can't minimize or pretend. And I am afraid that in our day we can no longer promise our children a safe world. I think we can promise that we will do everything in our power to keep them safe and to teach them to keep themselves safe.
AMOS: Thank you very much. Dr. Joshua Sparrow, a child psychiatrist in Boston and the co-author of "Touchpoints" and "Touchpoint Three to Six."
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