Reflection on the Mass School Shootings: Shooter Characteristics and South Asian American Parenting Lessons

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The Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012 was when I had to leave my bubble of naivety as a parent and come to terms with the harsh realities of living in the U.S.: Schools were not a safe place for children. The Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkman, Florida in 2018 and Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas school shooting in 2022 only further solidified this pattern.

Schools are being targeted by shooters, and this could happen in any one of our communities.

I realized that parents could do everything in their power to keep their own children safe, but if we did not engage in larger, macro-level changes (e.g., gun control policies), and smaller, micro-level changes (e.g., supporting parents who are raising children), we would not be doing everything in our power to keep our children safe.

In my Child and Adolescent development classes at San Jose State University, we have discussed several themes that have emerged when it comes to the characteristics of school shooters. These themes intersect with larger issues within the South Asian community, such as the intergenerational transmission of authoritarian parenting practices.

[Read Related: Five Moms Give us a Glimpse at Motherhood During the Pandemic]

Having been born and raised in California, I know from first-hand experience that first-generation Indian American parents practice authoritarian parenting. It is a parenting practice, based on high levels of control and low levels of warmth—and it has been passed down for generations.

First-generation parents were immigrants in a new land, and they were trying to hold onto traditional cultural values and practices. They also needed a parenting practice that prioritized children being obedient and respectful. However, what they didn’t realize was that it came at a cost of being emotionally close to their children.

Over the pandemic, my Asian American and South Asian American students from SJSU revealed through their online discussions how their basic physical needs were met by their parents—but they struggled to have their emotional needs met by their parents.

They discussed how their culture did not allow them to talk about their emotions. Many students reveal how they were asked to mask any negative emotions. Students were often scolded for not smiling at family parties; they also noted how they were forced to bottle up their uncomfortable emotions regardless of how it would affect them in the long run. Many discussed how they felt that showing frustration, anger, or sadness towards their parents was not welcome because it would be perceived as a sign of talking back or showing disrespect.

The following themes will be critical to address in our microsystems (i.e. families and communities) if we want to do our part in helping children become well-adjusted adults and do our part in protecting our communities from violence.

Shooter Characteristic #1: Dealing with Rejection, Hatred, and Resentment

School shooters often have a history of being rejected socially, emotionally, or romantically. They may have been bullied or targeted in some way. They are typically angry young men who harbor resentment and hatred. They are also socially isolated from others and have a need to prove themselves to others. What adds to their inner, emotional turmoil is that they have not been taught how to deal with these difficult, negative, and uncomfortable emotions in healthy ways. 

Parenting Lesson #1: Emotions must be prioritized

Parents play an important role in how their children regulate their emotions when things don’t go their way. Parents need to help their children process their emotions. However, Asian American cultures are known to tell their children to control or suppress their emotions. This is because expressing an individual’s inner emotions and feelings is at odds with our cultural goals of social harmony. 

One student wrote, “While growing up, I was educated that we should not express our feelings or emotions freely (by my parents). We need to care about [the] people surrounding us. We should not bring trouble or cause discomfort to others. We should try our best to keep the group and society in harmony. However, I feel somehow the opposite way. Suppressing personal feelings and emotions is not a healthy way. We should appropriately release them. Western culture encourages people to express themselves, and respect other people’s and group’s harmony in a balanced way, while Asian culture seems to weigh the group’s benefit more. These are cultural differences.” 

We know that parents can either increase or decrease internalizing and/or externalizing behaviors in their children based on their parenting style. Internalizing behavior is what leads children to direct their energy inwards towards themselves, such as when they experience anxiety or depression. Externalizing behavior is energy directed outwards towards others, like school shootings.

Generationally, South Asian parents have not been taught how to identify, express, or regulate their emotions. That’s why when children have problems, South Asian American parents don’t often know what to say or do. They think leaving their child alone is best—or they may tell their children to “pray to God” and everything will be ok. Unfortunately, our culture does not prioritize self-expression. As a result, children are often not able to express inner emotions, feelings, desires, opinions, or preferences.

The authoritarian parenting style is the “my way or highway” approach to parenting. Children follow a fixed set of rules and do what their parents say. However, they do not get to express their real emotions and they do not feel heard. Unfortunately, this leads to more externalizing (acting out at school, playing violent video games) or internalizing behavior (isolating themselves at home).

The authoritative parenting style is the parenting style that balances control with warmth. These parents listen to their children and guide their children. Parents tune into how their child is feeling, and what their opinions are. They then explain the rules with rationales and/or come to a compromise based on the situation or circumstance. They prioritize emotions and this leads to positive outcomes for children.

[Read Related: Signs Your Child may Have a Learning Disability]

Shooter Characteristics #2: History of violent behavior & the environment

The most powerful predictor of future violence is a history of violence. School shooters typically have aggressive tendencies that were supported by their environment. In 1999, the Columbine elementary shooters enjoyed guns, explosives, and destroying things; they were often found playing violent video games. In 2012, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter was lonely and isolated. His mother tried to bond with him by taking him to the shooting range because that was one thing they had in common. In 2018, the Parkland shooter use to play Halo (another violent video game) and it would end with him punching doors, and stabbing seat cushions until his mom called the police. In 2022, the Gunn Elementary shooter frequently made aggressive, sexual comments to young women on the Yubo App.

Parenting Lesson #2: The authoritative parenting style models healthy behavior in relationships

Parenting style and the environment can increase aggression in children. We know that the more children are exposed to aggression and violence, the more aggressive they will be. This is supported by the social learning theory. Social learning theory states that children pick up on “models” in our society. These models can be parents, siblings, or friends—but they can also be people from the media, TV shows, movies, video games, and social media. These “models” influence how our children behave in society.

Many South Asian parents use authoritarian, punitive, or harsh parenting practices. This is because it has been passed down generationally. To gain obedience and respect, parents use physical punishment like slapping, spanking, or hitting to teach their children the “right” way to do things. In addition, they are often verbally abusive to their children. By watching the way their parents act, children learn that they should also act this way when things don’t go their way.

The authoritative parenting style allows parents to communicate their needs to their children in a healthy way. By watching their parents as respectful “models,” children learn how to engage in society by being assertive about how they feel and what they need. This leads them away from being passive (internalizing) or aggressive (externalizing).

The authoritative parenting style breaks the intergenerational parenting practices of harsh, authoritarian parenting and it allows for quality parent-child relationships. Furthermore, this parenting style allows children to develop healthy relationships with their friends, romantic partners, and future children.

Shooter Characteristics #3: Life Stressors and Lack of Support

School shooters typically come from homes with negative life events and stressors. During Sandy Hook Elementary, the shooter’s mother was overwhelmed, did not know what to do with him, and did allow him to isolate. 

The shooters have also exhibited concerning behavior in society—and many communicated their intent to harm before they did so. There were signs that could have been picked up on. The Gunn elementary shooter stated on Facebook: “I’m going to shoot my grandmother” and “I’m going to shoot an elementary school” right before the attack.

Parenting Lesson #3: Community engagement and support are important

As a community, we need to be vigilant about “see something, say something.”

South Asian Americans have been known to teach their kids the “staying away tactics.” If it doesn’t concern them, leave it alone. South Asian American children are often taught not to speak out about controversial topics, like racism. They are taught to keep to themselves and to focus on their grades.

The authoritarian parenting style supports this type of behavior. Children of authoritarian parents don’t speak out about societal problems. They have been raised to follow what their parents say—and taught to do so without asking any questions. Parents don’t provide a reason or explanation for their rules. Parents also believe that their child’s opinion does not matter and that parents know best. As a result, children don’t know how to think critically about their lives, the decisions that they make, or larger, societal issues.

On the other hand, children of authoritative parents do think critically and they do believe their voice matters. They speak up when they see injustices occurring. These children are more likely to stand up when they see a child being bullied. 

Similarly, I believe that these children are the ones that will notice when another child is facing life stressors and do something about it. Through the authoritative parenting styles, parents will have communicated to them what the red flags are, who they should go to for support, and what they should say when they see something alarming or concerning happening at their schools.

Our children are the eyes and ears in our schools. Through our conversations with them, our children will know if a child is exhibiting internalizing behavior (e.g., children who isolate, are lonely, keep to themselves, and don’t have a lot of friends) or externalizing behavior (aggressive behavior, acting out at school, having disciplinary problems). Through these conversations, we can start to help parents reach out for the right types of support and community resources.

My hope is that by working with the microsystem (changes from the bottom-up with parents, children, and communities) and macrosystem (top-down, gun control policies) we can begin to do something that we have control over. I strongly believe that through the authoritative parenting style, which is a balance of control and warmth, parents can have more meaningful relationships with their children; this, in turn, will lead to more positive outcomes in the lives of our children and in our communities.

The opinions expressed by the writer of this piece, and those providing comments thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any of its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Writers. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you have a complaint about this content, please email us at This post is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Amita R. Shah

Dr. Amita Roy Shah is the founder of, a company dedicated to meeting the social, emotional, and cultural needs … Read more ›

Oak Creek: A Story of Hate, Hope and Healing

Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting. 

[Read Related: Oak Creek Gurdwara Massacre’s 4th Anniversary: Young Sikhs Express Optimism for the Continued Struggle Against Hate and Ignorance]

In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance event centered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.

In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships. 

Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality. SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.

[Read Related: Anti-Sikh Hate is on the Rise: Here’s What we can Do]

While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.

Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular

The opinions expressed by the writer of this piece, and those providing comments thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any of its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Writers. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you have a complaint about this content, please email us at This post is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
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By Kiran Kaur Gill

Kiran Kaur Gill is an accomplished professional with exemplary executive experience. In her role as Executive Director, she is responsible … Read more ›

Op-Ed: An Open Letter to President Biden in Light of Prime Minister Modi’s Visit to the States

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit
The following open letter is written by Hindus for Human Rights, an organization advocating for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of Hindu faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). They provide a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.

Dear President Biden,

As Indian-Americans, human rights organizations, and concerned allies, we are writing to urge you to engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy, especially ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States.

Despite objective evidence that India’s democracy is under critical attack, you have not spoken out about this crisis. In early 2023, Indian authorities conducted retaliatory raids on the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices for releasing a documentary about Prime Minister Modi. The week before the Summit for Democracy, the Indian government made three successive attacks on Indian democracy. First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights for Sikhs to peacefully organize and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism. And yet, not one representative from the Biden Administration said anything about even one of these developments. Instead, while Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March, you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy. Mr. Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine Indigenous rights in the state.

Even when confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India, your administration has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve. Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law. 

India is one of the fastest autocratizing nations in the world, mostly thanks to the current government. Freedom House has rated India as a “partly-free” country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media, and the targeting of political opponents. It has also rated Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free,” citing violations of human, civil, and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status. In Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking, India has dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Indexwhich examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders — every year for the past 15 years and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has said India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi. 

Given the magnitude of this crisis, we ask you to engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis. We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity. As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under U.S. law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded, under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. 

Finally, we urge you to publicly call on the Indian government to honor its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics. You can publicly denounce the rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponization of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism. Even if you are not willing to personally criticize the Prime Minister, you have ample opportunity to criticize the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people.

As President of the United States of America, you hold a unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.

— Signed by countless organizations and individuals leading the charge (linked here).