This week children have been hearing about how bombs were delivered in the mail to former Presidents Obama and Clinton and others as well. In addition to hearing about this incident of domestic terrorism, they have also been hearing about school shootings such as the school shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 students were killed. Additionally, in June of this year, students heard how someone had threatened to go Valley View Middle School and kill at least 30 students. So students who were use to these school shootings occurring typically thousands of miles away from us, now could happen in our area based on the threat made on 6/5/18. This made many students very anxious that the horrific events they have been hearing about could actually happen here and to them. Now this week they are hearing someone is mailing bombs and for people to be aware of their surroundings because we don’t know if it is over or will more bombs be mailed. Also they are hearing that a bomb was mailed to a Congresswoman in California. When you combine these recent events with the number of school shootings which have occurred and it’s no surprise that children are anxious about their safety and their parents safety. and today there was another school shooting. I have been seeing more and more children and teenagers who are complaining of anxiety and depression. Many of these children and teenagers are also afraid to go to school too. I have also been seeing more children and teenagers being placed on home/hospital for school. This means a teacher comes to the house once a week instead of the child or teenager going to school because they are too afraid of being shot at 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, the teenagers are saying they do not feel safe at school and now the incident with the bombs in the mail is exacerbating their anxiety significantly.
However, if you take a step back and look at what these children have seen over their lives it makes sense. Most of these children and 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 and teenagers are hearing how numerous bombs were mailed to people yesterday. These also are hearing that we do not know who did it and there is a strong possibility that there are more bombs out there and one of the bombs may explode and kill people.
Teenagers and parents have been asking Congress for sane gun laws so they can go to school safety. However, their requests have been ignored and school shootings continue. Therefore, many children and teenagers do not feel safe at school. Furthermore, the President is blaming the bombing situation on the press and not doing anything to stop it. In fact, the Time Warner building in New York City is being evacuated again tonight due to a suspicious backpack. Families were at restaurants having dinner and had to immediately evacuate. This current bomb threat only serves to add to the anxiety that children and teenagers are feeling. They do not feel safe at school, restaurants and are anxious about what may be in the mail. Is their mother or father going to go to work and be killed by a bomb that was delivered to the building they work in.
In addition to terrorism and bombs, we need to remember 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 combined. 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. Now with the bombs that are being mailed, children are hearing that we have no answers and that there are more bombs out there and one may explode and kill people. The evacuation of the Time Warner building in New York City again tonight supports this fact that there are more bombs and we do not have the situation under control. Furthermore, 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 very realistic. Therefore, the video games children and teens are playing are adding to their anxiety or worse desensitizing children and teens to violence and death.
As a psychotherapist, I am hearing children in the fourth and fifth grades telling me they are worried about our election results. They have heard what the President has said and they are afraid about 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 by daily events occurring in our country. 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 information about the current bombing situation and 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. We can explain that at Dad’s office or Mom’s office, they are taking extra precautions to make sure their mail is safe. 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 by looking at sites by the Red Cross. 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 your child assessed by a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children dealing with trauma. 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 http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.