By Haley Wilson and Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Following a weekend where two more teenagers were shot and killed in Birmingham, bringing the city’s teen homicides up to six in only the first two months of 2022, city officials and many others are searching for ways to address and deal with the senseless deaths.
“You can’t normalize children or young adults being killed in the street,” said Robert Smith, Executive Director of Birmingham-based The Amelia Center, which offers free counseling to anyone mourning the death of a parent, grandparent, sibling, close relative, or friend. “That is simply a very traumatic thing and often times youth will have a very tough time processing it without the help of a licensed professional counselor. These counselors specialize in guiding adolescents through the traumatic things they experience.”
The six teens killed in the city since the start of the year are 16-year-olds Jeremiah Collier; Todd Lorenzo Johnson Jr.; Yasmine Wright; 17-year-olds Chico Guest and Javarius Reid and 18-year-old De’Undray Nakil Haggard.
Mayor Randall Woodfin said on Tuesday that everyone in the community “should bear this burden” of loss.
“I know the headlines can be overwhelming, and it’s easier to tune out these tragedies than to take them on, but I want to remind everybody what else is overwhelming, parents who now have to come home and make dinner, and they sit at their dinner table, and their children are no longer there, and they’re staring at an empty seat at the dinner table.”
How can those parents and others counsel children who have lost their friends or classmates to violence?
First, it’s “important to understand that adolescents can be ‘forgotten mourners,’” said Crystal Mullen Johnson, licensed clinical social worker and CEO/owner of Strive Counseling Services. “Adolescents do grieve, and they grieve differently from adults,” she said.
Mullen-Johnson, who writes a monthly column for the Birmingham Times, said parents can help their children by looking for these signs:
- Lack of Feeling
“In some cases, victims of loss aren’t overwhelmed with difficult emotions but feel emotionally numb instead,” said Johnson. “This is a normal reaction, which typically occurs when someone loses someone or something suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s important for these individuals to make sure they grieve, which involves understanding and processing the loss.”
- Explosive Emotions
“This is common in teenagers,” said Johnson. “Acting out on rage or anger directed to a parent or anyone. Some kids don’t have the words to communicate those emotions effectively.”
- Physiological Changes
“There can be some changes in that child’s sleeping patterns,” she said. “Because they may be afraid, thinking that something bad may happen to them… These changes can really be anything: changes in sleep or appetite. It’s important for parents to pay attention to the patterns of their child and notice if anything is out of norm.”
- Guilt and Blame
“Some parents may see that their child may even start to blame themselves,” said Johnson. “You will hear a lot of ‘I should’ve and I could’ve.’ Some kids will think that maybe if they were there things would’ve went differently. They often see the situation as something they could have prevented. That is a normal feeling and it’s important that it is validated by the parent. Let them know that they were the best friend they could be to that loved one.”
Smith added that society has reached a point where there is a “devaluation of life . . . And if you don’t value your own life, you’re not going to value other people’s lives. Taking a life doesn’t have the consequence and the stigma and the impetus that it used to have…,” he said, “you have to start teaching kids at a young age… that they have value and that other people have value and that we don’t solve our problems through deadly violence.”
Updated at 10:51 a.m. on 2/23/2022 with additional quotes from Smith.
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