In a Nickelodeon study of children, their parents and how they tend to discuss tough issues, 62 percent of kids between 8 to 15 years old said they'd like more information on what to do if someone brings a gun to their school.
Kids' interest in school violence outscored the other eight topics in the survey, including alcohol, AIDS and sexual reproduction.
The "Talking with Kids About Tough Issues" report was released last Thursday by Nickelodeon, The Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now, just days after a high school student in Santee, Calif., opened fire during school hours, killing two teenagers. Reports said the suspect had been repeatedly teased at school, a possible motive for the shootings.
"When a tragic incident like that happens, it draws national attention to children and families," said Kaiser Family Foundation vice president Tina Hoff. She said children who hear about such stories need to be reassured, to know how to protect themselves and to feel comfortable telling their parents if they hear about guns at their own schools.
"After that story goes off the headlines, it's a [parent-child] conversation that needs to keep happening," Hoff added.
To help foster more conversation among families, Nickelodeon last week launched a series of public-service announcements for its Talking with Kids campaign. In one, a pre-teen boy tells the camera that he felt alone before he was able to talk to his stepdad about incidents in which he was teased.
Other spots show a teenage girl asking her mother about dating, and an adolescent girl talking to her sister about changes in her body.
"The PSAs are poignant," Nickelodeon executive vice president of public affairs Marva Smalls said. "They're real, and they're real people-not actors."
Child-focused spots will air on Nickelodeon and Noggin, while ads aimed at parents will run on sister networks such as VH1, TNN: The National Network, Country Music Television and Nick at Nite. Smalls said she hopes the PSAs will trigger on-the-spot talks between kids and their parents.
"We want to take some of the angst off the parents and ease them into a natural evolution of talking about tough issues," Smalls said.
The network has also set up a toll-free number that parents can call to order a 16-page guide on talking to children, which includes a "talk challenge official contract" between parents and kids. The initial print run was for 250,000 copies.
Nickelodeon plans to continue the campaign for at least a year to 18 months.