The current generation of children and teenagers are once again being exposed to a situation most children have never experienced. With Russia starting a war, children and teenagers are experiencing the largest amount of military activity since World War II. They are hearing nightly, or via their cellphones, how Russia is invading Ukrainian and how Ukrainian is being attacked. Additionally, they are hearing how Russia may invade Poland and what the United States and NATO may or may not do.
Now if you take a step back, look at what these children and teenagers have seen over their lives. 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.
When Trump was President, children and teenagers were hearing all day long how we were on the verge of having a nuclear war with North Korea, until Trump decided he liked the dictator of North Korea. Initially Trump was making threats towards North Korea that were terrifying everyone, including children. Furthermore, children and teenagers had to live through violent deadly attacks such as the one in North Carolina. As a result, children were afraid that the end of the world was 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.
In addition to the violence, children and teenagers in this generation have had to live through a deadly pandemic. Our Country was on lock down for 2 years and kids couldn’t attend school, play sports, hang out with friends and had to wear masks to go out in public. While restrictions are being relaxed, we still are dealing with the Coronavirus. Furthermore, the virus has killed over 900,000 Americans with approximately 2,000 people still dying daily (CDC). Therefore, children and teenagers are having to learn how to live with a deadly virus and many are grieving the loss of loved ones and friends.
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 there were officers 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..
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 to news our children are receiving regarding the coronavirus, mass shootings, wars, terrorism, such as January 6th and the fact that no one has any clear answers how to solve any of these issues. Parents can also monitor the video games their children and teenagers 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. Also children do not need toy guns that look like real automatic weapons. We can also listen to what our children are saying and talk to them about their concerns. When a mass shooting occurs or there is a charge regarding the virus, 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 or behavior in your child or teenager that you are concerned about have talk to your child or teen or have them assessed by a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers. 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 issues. 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 25 years experience treating children and teenagers and is an expert treating victims of trauma and also performs Critical Incident Debriefing. Additionally, he is a certified psychotherapist for first responders. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.