Safety First: Safety First - Don’t play the reverse lottery with your child’s life

Safety First – Don’t play the reverse lottery with your child’s life | by Dr. Popkin

Parenting in Violent Times

A six-year-old boy took his mother’s handgun to school recently and intentionally shot his teacher in the stomach.  You probably heard about it.  It was the lead news story for days, replacing the one about the four college students in Idaho who were murdered in their beds a few weeks earlier.  We live in violent times in a violent culture.  We know this, and yet too many parents and others play what might be called “the reverse lottery” with their own lives and the lives of their children.

I’ll explain.  I was reading a very good article that revealed that while the six-year-old’s story was news-worthy it was not the first time that a young student shot someone at school.  Since 1999, according to the Washington Post, there have been at least 11 cases in which the child who did the shooting was no older than ten.  In nine of the shootings, the child brought the gun from home.  Later in the article, we learn that as of 2015 some 4.6 million children live in homes where there is at least one loaded, unlocked firearm.

The Reverse Lottery

Do the math:  4.6 million divided by 11 equals 409,090.  In other words, only one in 409,090 children took their parent’s or other adult’s gun from home and injured or killed someone at school.  “So, what’s the problem?” one might ask. “Those odds are incredibly slim .”  This is what I call reverse lottery thinking, and it’s very, very dangerous.

In a regular lottery, a person buys a ticket, say for $2 in the current Powerball lottery, that is potentially worth over a billion dollars.  But let’s say it’s only $1 and the possible payout is $409,090. Either way, people line up to buy tickets because though the chances of winning are very slim, the cost of losing is very small and the potential payout is huge!  This logic is reasonable (as long as you aren’t buying so many tickets that you can’t buy food or pay your bills, but that’s another issue).   People play because, as the saying goes, “If you don’t play, you can’t win”.  And if you do play you may be one of the extremely lucky few who overcome almost astronomical odds.

Safety First – Don’t play the reverse lottery with your child’s life

In the reverse lottery, the situation is the opposite.  If you take a chance by keeping an unlocked, loaded firearm in your home, even though the chances of your child shooting someone at school are extremely low, the consequential costs of losing this lottery are incredibly high.  Plus, there is no real payoff in not taking the necessary precautions.  If you feel that your safety requires a firearm at home then go to the small inconvenience of keeping it in a locked place and unloaded.  Just as there are lottery winners, there are also lottery losers.  The odds may be the same (very slim), but in the reverse lottery the consequences are a matter of life and death.

The Importance of Safety First!

I spent a lot of my childhood at the children’s summer camp that my father and his two brothers founded and ran, so I was educated early in the importance of putting safety first.  Later, as a camp director myself, I taught this concept to our staff during training.  We never assumed “everything will be okay.”  We ran drills, reviewed protocols, and watched the campers in places like the waterfront like hawks. Creating fun comes easy, but making sure it’s  safe fun, that requires adult supervision.  Kids just do not have the brain development yet to adequately recognize the risks and consequences of some behaviors.   That mentality of safety first should govern every family, and not just when it comes to firearms.  Riding in a car with seatbelts unfastened, failing to insist that your child wear a helmet while biking, not keeping an eye on kids near the water, and a hundred other reverse lotteries that aren’t worth playing are like paying a million dollars for a lottery ticket that would return nothing if you do win.  It’s  just a bad bet.

Healthy Risk vs Risking a Child’s Life

I’m not advocating for overcautious parenting here.   There are always inherent risks in participation, and lots of important lessons are learned through the natural consequences of mistakes.  Bumps, bruises, and stitches are the merit badges of childhood.  But in our Active Parenting programs, we draw the line at the point where a mistake might be catastrophic.  Nobody ever learned anything from dying.  The best they can do is provide object lessons for the rest of us.

Remember: SAFETY FIRST – Don’t play the reverse lottery with your child’s life

Active Parenting Publishers founder and president
Michael H. Popkin, Ph.D. has been providing
research-based education programs with an
emphasis on nonviolent discipline, mutual respect,
and open communication for over 35 years. He is
widely known for his expertise in the field of parent
education and has appeared on over 100 TV programs,
including CNN and The Oprah Winfrey Show.


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