We have all heard about the tragedy in Las Vegas yesterday and the fact that many families were present it makes sense to remind parents about how they may want to respond to their children. In addition to how Trump is reacting to North Korea and the news is covering the story 24 hours a day, it makes more sense to remind parents how children and teenagers are being impacted by traumatic events. I have been seeing more and more teenagers who are complaining of anxiety and depression. Many of these teenagers are also afraid to go to school too. I have also been seeing more teenagers being placed on home/hospital for school. This means a teacher comes to the house once a week instead of the teenager going to school. This is an alarming trend.
I have also been hearing more teenagers talking about needing to carry a knife with them for their own safety. They tell me you never know when someone might try to attack you. These are not juvenile delinquents or gang members, these are average teenagers. They come from healthy families and are doing well in school and not involved in drugs. This need they feel to protect themselves is an alarming trend.
However, if you take a step back and look at what these children have seen over their lives it makes sense. Most of these teenagers were very young on 9/11, or were not even born yet, when the United States was attacked. Since 9/11 they have also seen two wars and heard on the nightly news about numerous terrorist alerts or attacks around the world and here in the United States. They also hear how the TSA are putting tighter security on travelers and places such as Disneyland are increasing security due to concerns about terrorism.
And now, children are hearing all day long how we are on the verge of having a nuclear war. Our President is making threats that are terrifying everyone, including children. Furthermore, we then have the attach in North Carolina. As a result, children are afraid that the end of the world is around the corner.
In addition to terrorism, this is the first generation growing up with mass shootings. According to ABC News from 2000 to 2015 there have been 140 mass shootings and since January 1, 2016, there have been more mass shootings than the previous 15 years. According to the statistics on mass shootings every day 36 people are killed in the United States by a gun. This does not include suicides. For the group we are discussing, suicide is the third leading cause of death for children between 10 and 18 years old and using a gun is one of the most popular methods of suicide. Also because of school shootings, students have seen increased security on their school campuses. Many campuses have metal detectors that students have to pass through as the enter the campus and there are police officers assigned to school sites due to the fear of violence.
Now, in addition to these facts stated above, think about what these children see on the news nightly and the video games they play daily. Anytime there is a shootings incident in the United States, or any where in the world, there is pretty much 24 hour news coverage of the event for days. Also when there are bombing or shootings in Europe there is 24 hour news coverage for days too. And now we have moved on to covering funerals. When the officers were killed in Dallas the memorial was televised nationally. If we look at the video games these kids are playing most have to do with killing and death. And since computer graphics have significantly improved, many of these games look real.
Additionally, children in the fourth and fifth grades are telling me they are worried about our election results. They have heard what the President has said and they are afraid other countries attacking us or that the President may start a war. Also Hispanic children who are legal citizens are afraid that they will be deported. This is a great deal for a nine or ten year old child to worry about.
Looking at all of this it begins to make sense why I am seeing more depressed and anxious teenagers who fear for their lives. These teenagers are being traumatized. They may not be experiencing the trauma personally but they are experiencing vicarious trauma. With all of the pictures on television and news reports and realistic video games these teenagers are playing, they are being traumatized vicariously. We have never had a generation of children grow up with the amount of trauma that these children are growing up with in the world. Even children growing up during World War II didn’t experience this amount of trauma. We didn’t have instant access to news nor did we have the graphic videos being shown by the news media.
The question now becomes, what do we do? Well we can not change the world unfortunately. However, we can monitor how much exposure our children are receiving to mass shootings when they occur. We can monitor the video games they are playing and limit access to games that focus on violence and killing. We can demand that the Congress pass gun control laws that make sense. No one needs an assault weapon to hunt a deer. We can also listen to what our children are saying and talk to them about their concerns. When a mass shooting occurs we can ask them how they are feeling, ask if they have any concerns and reassure them that you are there as their parents to protect them. Also try to become active. Look for sites by the Red Cross or the benefit concert for victims of the Manchester incident. Making a donation helps children to feel there is something they can do instead of just being a victim.
Finally, if you start to notice a change of attitude in your child that you are concerned about have talk to your child or have them assessed by a psychotherapist. I have included a link to an article by the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry which describes what parents can do http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Talking-To-Children-About-Terrorism-And-War-087.aspx. There is nothing to be ashamed of if a child needs therapy. We are exposing children to situations that most adults have problems dealing with themselves. You may find it very upsetting to talk to your child about these incidents. For these reasons and many more, if you feel your teenager has been traumatized vicariously make an appointment with a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers and victims of trauma. Our kids have had to deal with a lot. We can help make it easier for them growing up in this time by providing the help they need.
Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers and is an expert treating victims of trauma and also performs Critical Incident Debriefing. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.