Helping Children Traumatized by Mass Shootings

Helping Children Traumatized by Mass Shootings

I recently wrote an article about mass shootings and the impact they are having on children. In light of this week’s events it appears another article is needed. There was another mass shooting and at least 12 people lost their lives. This shooting also created more fear regarding mass shootings. The shooter used a silencer on his gun so you could not hear the shot. This is part of the training we give to students. We tell them to run away from the sound of the gun, but if there is no sound how do the run. First responders are now re-evaluating how they will handle mass shootings, if they cannot hear the gun. Children are already anxious about going to school and being killed. This new fact will only add to their fear.

I anticipate that I will be 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, but given the number of mass shootings in makes sense.

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 at times are putting tighter security on travelers and places such as Disneyland are increasing security due to concerns about terrorism.

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. With the recent shooting it is estimated that there have been over 150 mass shootings since the year 2000 (CNN). According to the statistics on mass shootings every day 36 people are killed in the United States by a gun. Also it is estimated that every 11.8 days there is a mass shooting in the United States (CDC). This does not include suicides. For the group we are discussing, suicide was the third leading cause of death for children between 10 and 18 years old. It is now the third leading cause of death for teens 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. 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 their safety due to the President. They have heard what the President has said and they are afraid other countries may attack us or that the President may start a war. Also Hispanic children who are legal citizens are still 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 demand that the Senate act. Telephone Senator’s McConnell office at 202-224-2541and demand that he stop refusing to put the bills passed by the Congress on the Senate floor for a vote. Parents can monitor how much exposure 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. Again, we must demand that the Congress and the Senate pass gun control laws that make sense. No one needs an assault weapon or silencer to hunt a deer. All the weapons in this last shooting were purchased legally. The government must act.

Another thing parents can do is 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.

Finally, if you start to notice a change of attitude in your child that you are concerned about have a talk with 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 http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.

High School Graduation a Happy and Sad Day

High School Graduation a Happy and Sad Day

This weekend there will be many high school graduations and they will continue for the next few weeks. We tend to view high school graduations as a happy event. It signifies a big accomplishment for the teen because they completed high school and are ready for the next step in the lives as a young adult. However, while graduation can be a happy event there are aspects of it that can be confusing and sad.

As I stated for many high school graduation marks a big accomplishment for teenagers. They have finished their basic education and they are ready to move on to their life plans as a young adult. For many students this means going to a four year college and earning a Bachelors degree. In addition, many graduates will be celebrating scholarships they received and awards they received for their academic or other accomplishments in high school. They also have friends and family there to join them in celebrating their accomplishments. Of course this is a happy day and it deserves to be celebrated.

While this is the stereotype we think about regarding graduation, it’s not the reality for every student. Some students have worked very hard and maintained very good grades, but they did not get accepted into a college they can afford and they did not receive any awards or scholarships. Instead of going to a four year university, they will need to attend the local two year junior college and try to transfer into a four year university. Other students who have learning disabilities are just barely graduating and had to wait to the last minute to see if the past all of their classes. Some did not pass and they have to go to summer school so they may be allowed to participate in the ceremony but they are not finished yet. These students do not get to live the stereotype and often feel embarrassed and ashamed when they compare themselves to the other students in their graduating class.

I had also mentioned celebrating with family and friends. For some students this can be very difficult. If their parents had a hostile divorce, the divorce may be being dragged into the graduation. Instead of a celebration, the parents may be making the graduation a civil war. The graduate may be forced to take sides in regards to who they can invite to the ceremony. Do they invite mom’s side or dad’s side. This can change a happy event into a very stressful event the graduate does not want to be involved in. For some graduates a mother or father has passed away and graduation day is another reminder that this very special person is no longer physically present. Therefore, graduation may be a stressful or sad day.

Another aspect that is overlooked is graduation is an ending. It marks the end of a teenager’s high school experience. Many teens have been very involved with their school and have developed close relationships with teachers and school staff and they have developed very close friendships with their classmates. Graduation marks an end to their high school life. They need to say goodbye to these people and move on to a school they do not know and may not know anyone else who is attending their college. I remember one high school secretary’s comment when she looked at the senior class, “I have never seen so many kids look so happy and sad at the same time”.

In addition to saying goodbye to their high school family, graduates need to say goodbye to their families. If they are going away to school, they will no longer living with their parents or siblings. While they may complain about their families, they will miss them too. Mom and Dad will miss their graduated too. So while traditional we tend to only focus on the positive, which is not uncommon for our society, we also need to acknowledge that graduation marks an ending too. An ending to their high school family, friends they have created and to their high school activities along with a change in the graduates life. They no longer are a high school kid. They are a college student and a young adult and need to start their lives all over. This will have happy moments and sad one too. It’s important to acknowledge both.

While high school students will be starting their lives over, I have included a small segment of a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. It empathizes that you need to define yourself, don’t let others try to decide who are going to be in life https://www.facebook.com/goalcast/videos/1294330473977473?s=1391497228&v=e&sfns=mo.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and adolescents. He has appeared on television and radio shows and is considered an expert in adolescent psychology. For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his website at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com, http://www.rcs-ca.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.