No Kidding Around

When it comes to my kids, I'm overprotective. I keep a tight rein on them and rarely let them out of my sight. This means no hanging out at the mall unchaperoned, and I hardly ever co-sign on overnights at friends' houses. The way I see it, I can't protect them if I'm not with them.

My children hate this about me and often harmonize together on a never-ending chorus of "that's not fair." But the thing my kids don't understand -- and probably won't until they have kids of their own -- is that they're my life, the breath in my lungs. And the thought of something happening to them simply paralyzes me. Am I being unreasonable? Probably. Paranoid? Guilty as charged. But can you really blame me?

Raising teens is scary enough on its own, and the rash of recent school shootings has only cultivated my innate paranoia. As much I can control my kids, I can't control the actions of other people's children. Or other adults. That's what scares me.

Ultimately, I know they have to live their own lives, for better or worse. I can't always fight their battles. And given this harsh reality, the wife and I send them off to school every day, praying that they'll be safe from harm and those who would harm them. Once upon a time, we -- like our parents before us -- believed that school was a safe haven. Then one day in April 1999, two thoroughly disturbed boys from Littleton brought us face-to-face with our naivete.

Some blame the Columbine tragedy on bullying that Harris and Klebold endured. I'm no psychoanalyst, but I'd say they were a pair of a powder-kegs with a latent disaffection for society (and disregard for human life) long before they pulled the triggers. And the bullying simply exacerbated the situation.

Whatever the case, not much has changed in the past half-dozen years, as much as I'd like to think otherwise. A few weeks ago, for example, a bunch of Goth kids started taunting my son, calling him a faggot for wearing "girl pants" to school. (My son's a skater, and tight pants are de rigueur in skater circles.) What's more, the girls in that crew -- two of whom slapped him -- were the chief instigators. The irony factor on that one is off the charts, but that's a whole other Oprah.

My son's no angel. I know this, and he can give as good as he gets. But the fact that he was being hassled by a pair of females put him in a precarious position. Since he was a zygote, I've preached that he's forbidden to put hands on a female -- even if she hits you first. By the same token, his pride was at stake here.

This taunting went on for several days. I knew it wouldn't be long before my son lashed out at one of the boys in the group, and I pleaded with him to just ignore the other kids and to avoid physical confrontation at all costs. Being level-headed, he heeded my advice. And fortunately, when my wife brought the situation to the attention of the assistant principal, he took it seriously and wasted no time intervening. Almost immediately, the tormenting stopped. And just last week, one of the girls reached out in an effort to establish a friendship.

That's why I love my kids' school. Administrators have a zero-tolerance policy and act swiftly.

So this past Monday, Prairie View High School's administrators sent a note to parents alerting them to an unnerving situation that took place on campus last Friday: Someone had tagged two girls' restrooms with the words "PVHS the next Columbine." Rather than brushing it off as a sign of kids being kids, the principal took action and crafted a memo detailing exactly what had happened, what he and his staff had done as a result, and reassuring parents that security cameras are in place and the school's two entry points are clearly visible from the office, hall and lobby.

"It is our goal to ensure students, staff and parents a safe school environment," the memo read. This gesture could be seen as an over-reaction, heightening an already looming sense of dread. But I applaud the school's efforts. Better to be safe then sorry, especially when it comes to protecting the kids. That's something I will definitely co-sign. -- Dave Herrera

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun