Back-to-school buys now include bulletproof backpacks. Are they worth it?

Korin Miller
Writer
It’s back-to-school time, which has some parents thinking about school shootings. (Photo: Getty Images)

Back-to-school shopping lists usually contain the basics — pencils, notebooks, folders, and the like — but some moms and dads are now thinking of adding bulletproof backpack shields to their lists. It sounds absurd and unfathomable, but this is an option now being considered by many parents, including this writer.

My oldest son starts kindergarten in the fall and, while he’s beyond excited to go to big-kid school, I’m terrified to think that he’ll be in an environment where there is a chance that he could be in the line of fire. That’s not just my imagination going wild; it’s an actual possibility. (There have already been 17 school shootings in 2018 alone.)

It’s why my husband and I recently had a conversation about buying our son a bulletproof backpack shield, an insert that goes into a backpack that will supposedly help stop a bullet in its tracks. It was a talk we both acknowledged was ridiculous and sad, if necessary, to even have in the first place.

Here’s the thing: School shootings can and do happen, even in so-called safe communities like the one in which we live. But in the event of a shooting, is a backpack shield actually going to do anything when it comes to protecting our son?

It’s pretty unlikely, according to former police chief John Matthews, executive director of the Community Safety Institute and author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival. “Most of these bulletproof backpack shields and bulletproof backpacks are not going to sufficiently protect a child anyway,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They’re not big enough and not made of material we need. We’re seeing shooters with shotguns and assault rifles — backpacks won’t protect kids against those.”

There’s also the fact that, if the unthinkable happens, the shooter will likely be at close range, making it even more unlikely that a backpack will do enough to cover a child, he says.

Plus, in many of these situations, it’s actually better if children drop their backpacks, which would slow them down while trying to run, thus making the shields pointless. So instead of outfitting our son with such an item, Matthews says, we’d be better off teaching him what to do if there is ever a shooter at his school: running away from the shooter, locking the door, and hiding behind something that could actually stop rifle or semiautomatic fire, such as a vending machine or copier.

Still, he’s 5. How is this something we really have to talk about?

“It does indicate a greater problem,” Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The reality is that instead of trying to protect our children from gun violence in our schools, we should be working to disarm dangerous people. We seem to be acting like school shootings are acts of nature instead of the consequence of political acts of cowardice.”

Still, experts say that if you do plan to get your child a bulletproof backpack shield or a bulletproof backpack, it’s important to have a conversation with them about why. “Be direct and let them know what it is for and how to use it,” licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. However, he stresses, the conversation could either give your child false courage or completely freak them out. “I don’t think there is any way to provide such a scary product to your child without creating fear in their minds that school is not a safe place,” he says.

Even if you’re not interested in any of these products, it’s still important to talk to your children about school safety and what to do in a shooter situation, just in case, Matthews says. Obviously, it needs to be done in an age-appropriate manner, but talking to them about this, just as you would about the possibility of an extreme weather situation, is important for their overall safety, Matthews says. “Just be direct and honest, but don’t have a daily bombardment on this topic,” Mayer notes.

As for me, I’m not sure what I’ll do. Watts says it’s important for parents to do what will give them peace of mind — though I’m doubtful that these inserts, or anything else for that matter, could actually do that in these times.

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