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. This week there were two mass shootings. One in Colorado and one in North Carolina. Additionally, the one in Colorado appears to be a hate crime too. The shooting occurred in the city’s only LGBTQ+ bar and hate crimes against transgender individuals have seen a significant increase this year. This increases the fear and trauma in the LGBTQ+ community in that city and all across the country too. As of today there have been 612 mass shooting in the United States just this year. There are only 356 days in a year so we are have more than one mass shooting a day in our Country (CDC). Additionally, there are 112 shootings every day in the United States (CDC). These include domestic violence incidents, crimes, suicides and accidents. We are experiencing a tremendous amount of gun violence in our Country. It is no surprise that there is an epidemic of anxiety, depression and cutting in children and teenagers in our Country (CDC). It also no surprise that many people such as teachers, store clerks and first responders are dealing with PTSD in significant numbers (CDC).
However, stop and think for a moment. Every time there is a mass shooting the people who were killed and injured, they and their families are traumatized, but so is every person who was at that school or store that day and so are the first responders who must treat the wounded, deal with the families and the paramedics and police officers who must see the bodies torn apart and the blood all over the crime scene.
However, the trauma doesn’t stop at the site of the shooting. Everyone living in the town is traumatized because the illusion that they are safe has been destroyed. Additionally, anyone any where in our Country who has experienced gun violence relives the trauma all over again. This experience of reliving the trauma doesn’t stop in six months or a year. Most people will carry this trauma with them for life. Some people find it so overwhelming that they eventually commit suicide to stop the trauma. Many people refer to it as survivor guilt. We are seeing parents and teenagers who have experienced past mass shootings committing suicide recently. Many first responders also are at risk for suicide because they blame themselves for not being able to save the victims.
Also, 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. However, since 9/11 they have 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 have heard 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. This is a great deal of stress and trauma for a child to endure daily. 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 second 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 former President Trump. They have heard what the former President has said and they are afraid other countries may attack us. 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 not to pass laws which would protect children. 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, no background check or waiting period. In Canada before someone buys a gun their family is interviewed and there is an in-depth investigation of the person. If other countries can do this without terminating someone’s right to own a gun, so can our Country. 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 25 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 or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.