Teenagers Continue to Experience Vicariously Trauma Daily

Teenagers Continue to Experience Vicariously Trauma Daily

Many people tend to assume only people who were directly exposed to a trauma will experience issues related to the trauma and may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, this is not the truth. Many people may not have lived through the trauma, but they may know someone who did or they were exposed to very explicit images of the trauma or have been hearing about the trauma a lot on the news. It may also trigger memories of a trauma they experienced in their lives or in their family. This can cause what is referred to as vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma is when someone is traumatized by an event but they did not experience the event themselves. Simply knowing about or hearing about the event is traumatizing to them. This is happening to many children and families in the United States. However, when are we going to pay attention to the way children in the United States are being traumatized over and over?

If this sounds confusing, let’s look at what children and teenagers have been dealing with and living through the last few years. This last year teenagers and children have been living with the trauma of the Coronavirus. Their schools were closed without warning and so were the sports and other after school activities stopped suddenly. In addition they were not able to hang out with friends and had to go to school remotely.

In addition to these changes, many children and teenagers had family members they could no longer see, such as grandparents and many had family members who died due to the Coronavirus. However, they were not able to attend funeral services and say goodbye. Over 525,000 Americans died to the Coronavirus. All of those people had family members and friends who are grieving for them still. A fact we tend to overlook. However, children and teenagers are dealing with it daily especially if they lost a parent, grandparents or a sibling.

While children and teenagers are still dealing with how poorly the Pandemic was handled by the government, now many are being told we are reopening states including schools. Therefore, they no longer have to deal with remote school now they will be back in their classrooms. This brings up anxiety about how school will be because they still need to be cautious so they don’t contract the Coronavirus. Many children and teenagers have told me they are very worried about being exposed to the Coronavirus or their parents being exposed to the Coronavirus.

In addition to the Coronavirus, children and teenagers now have to worry again about mass shootings. We just started opening the Country and already there have been two mass shootings. This brings up the anxiety and vicarious trauma children have been exposed to regarding school shootings for years. They have been increasing every year since 2010 (CDC) and in 2019 by November there had been 336 mass shootings averaging out to a mass shooting every 1.2 days (Gun Violence Archive). These are overwhelming statistics for adults and we are expecting children and teenagers to cope with them. The students know there have been no changes to the gun laws. Therefore, they are having to return to school and worry about mass school shootings.

Look at what they are returning to when they return to school. Today in most United States schools, the classroom doors are kept lock while class is in session and no one can enter a school campus without checking in with the main office and they must wear an identification badge while on campus. In fact, all school employees must wear official school identification badges while at work. Many elementary students noticed these changes and have asked why the door must be locked? Students are told it is for their safety. The school is preventing any people who do not belong at the school from getting near the students. No one mentions someone with a gun, but children have heard about and remember all the mass shootings and they know why the door needs to be locked. I have many elementary students mention this to me during their therapy sessions.

Now when we were in school we had fire alarm drills in case there ever was a fire in the school. No one thought much about them. Some students felt the fire alarm was too loud but no one really worried about a fire happening at school. We never worried about it because we never heard about any school fires and people dying.

Today students face more than fire alarm drills. Schools routinely have active shooter drills. During these drills students are taught to shelter in place and to remain very quiet so the shooter will not enter their room. Therefore, besides having heard about and remembering mass school shootings, school students know they are returning to a place where they could be killed. They know they are practicing what to do in case there is a shooter at their school trying to kill them. Therefore, they worry about could a shooting happen at their school and could they die. As a result of these fears, the CDC has documented that anxiety disorders and depression had significantly increasing in children since school shootings increased and they have documented a further increase in anxiety and depression due to the Coronavirus.

To add to the trauma students now face, if there is an incident, such as a bank robbery, involving someone with a gun near a school, the police put the school on lock down. The students must shelter in place and they don’t know if the person with the gun will come to their school or not. This creates a significant amount of anxiety for children and many are traumatized by the incident. Here is another incident causing trauma for children and teenagers. How many do we expect them to cope with at their ages? When will we provide mental health care for the children, teenagers, their parents, the school staff and the first responders? All of these people are being exposed to trauma regarding the Coronavirus and mass shootings on a regular basis. This creates traumatic reactions and exacerbates old traumatic reactions.

Another issue which adds to this trauma is gun control. Since the shooting in Florida many students have been actively campaigning for sane gun control. However, nothing has been done to enact sane gun control laws. High school students know nothing is being done and elementary children are hearing nothing is being done about guns. This makes them worry because they know guns are still out there that can be used to kill them. The shooting which occurred in New Zealand cause high school and elementary students to wonder why our Country does nothing about gun control. Our government has done nothing even though students and parents are demanding safe gun laws. While our government debates the issue, more students were killed and may be killed. Just look at the two mass shooting this past week. However, New Zealand in a matter of 3 weeks after a shooting banned all assault weapons. This makes students wonder why we have not done anything when we have a bigger problem with mass shootings. Also it doesn’t make them feel safe at school because they do not feel like a priority. Some people will say children and teenagers are not aware of such issues. However, remember with their Smartphones they have instant access to the news and this generation of teenagers are politically active.

Working with teenagers and children I have seen that anxiety and trauma reactions have

increased significantly for children. Also children are afraid of returning to school because they might be killed. These are responses to the mass shootings. Every time there is a mass shooting children become more anxious and afraid. We had two mass shootings this last week and as I am writing this article another mass shooting is occurring in the Florida Keys. We have just started to open the Country and we already have had 3 mass shootings. This will exacerbate previous traumatic reactions and create new ones. We are expecting children and teenagers to cope with the Coronavirus and mass shootings at the same time. For those children and teenagers not directly effected by the virus or shootings, they still have to cope with the issues which results in vicarious trauma.

Furthermore, if we want to reduce the vicarious trauma children and teenagers experience, we must be honest and not lie to children and teenagers. Remember, they have their smartphones phones and easy access to news and videos clips of the news. The best example is when the US Capital building was attacked by people trying to prevent President Biden from winning the Presidential Election. There have been Republican Congressmen and Senators saying they were safe and down playing the event. However, police were killed and injured and people were chanting “hang Pence”. To me that doesn’t sound safe. Additionally, despite the video showing these protesters breaking windows, spraying police with pepper spay and beating officers with flag poles, the former President Trump went on television saying the protesters were hugging the police, waving hello and walking calmly into the Capital. This type of blatant lie causes teenagers not to trust authority figures because they may be lying and it can cause them to second guess what they saw in the video. This creates a situation where teenagers do not know who to trust and this exacerbates their fear and traumatic reactions because they feel they have no one to trust. Children and teenagers need the truth in age appropriate terms. The truth is easier to handle than their emotions.

Summing up, children and teenagers in the United States have been traumatized and vicariously traumatized by mass shootings and the Coronavirus. As we start to open up the Country, they continue to have to deal with the Coronavirus and mass shootings. Therefore, they continue to be traumatized and vicariously traumatized. Many will need psychotherapy to help them with these issues. The American Association of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry has put out the following guidelines. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms in your child or teenager it explains how to start to talk to your child or teenager and how to find the appropriate psychotherapist for your child. It is important to get a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders and trauma issues http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Talking-To-Children-About-Terrorism-And-War-087.aspx.

One final aspect about vicarious trauma that has emerged regarding mass shootings and the Coronavirus is suicide. Family members and survivors of mass shootings are feeling survivors guilt and as a result committing suicide. There was a report of 3 people who committed suicide who either survived a mass shooting or their child died in one. This has been occurring for a long time. It has been occurring since Columbine. Family members feel they can no longer cope with the pain. Survivors can’t cope with the guilt of surviving. Family and friends of some one who was killed or injured in a mass school shooting have had their lives changed forever! People, family members and first responders, especially hospital workers dealing with the Coronavirus are also committing suicide. They are dealing with depression, anxiety and trauma reactions on a daily basis. However, we do not have adequate mental health resources to help these people. Also people assume after a few months, most people may be grieving but can handle their situation. This is not true. They are experience anxiety and trauma that for many of them is very confusing. This only increases the anxiety and trauma. The children experiencing the shooter drills are also confused by their anxiety and traumatic reactions. They do not know what to do and this causes isolation and the feelings increase.

We must eliminate the stigma associated with mental health issues. We also need to make sure that anyone who is even remotely exposed to a mass shooting (including first responders and emergency room physicians) or anyone who has had to deal with the Coronavirus have access to mental health care. Not just for a month or two but for as long as they need psychotherapy and they should be able to receive the therapy without worrying about the cost.

We have a generation of children growing up with anxiety and traumatic reactions. If we don’t help them now, they will only get worse as time goes on. May be we need to take a lesson from New Zealand and how they responded to a mass shooting. They banned assault weapons after one shooting. We have been having shootings for 20 years and have done nothing, why? We have a great deal of information about the Coronavirus and we are arguing about wearing masks. Why?

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers and specializes in treating trauma. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

Three Years After the Park Side Shootings and What has Changed?

Three Years After the Park Side Shootings and What has Changed?

Today, February 14, 2021, will mark the three year anniversary of the at the high school in Parkside, Florida. On that day 17 people were killed and 17 people were injured. The lives of these students, teachers and staff and families were changed forever. Additionally, the lives of the first responders, paramedics and police, were also changed forever. A family never fully recovers from the death of a child. Furthermore, these statistics do not account for how many students at the school, teachers and family members are suffering from grief and Post Traumatic Disorder. Remember, this is Valentines Day and students and families were expecting a day of fun not a day of horror that has changed them for life.

Additionally, this year will be the nine year anniversary of the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary school where many children and adults where senselessly killed. Again the students and families’ lives were changed forever on that day. Since the Sandy Hook shooting more than 500,000 people in the United States have been killed by senseless gun violence. This means over 500,000 families have been changed forever and we have no idea how many children and adults continue to suffer with PTSD. The research shows people associated with these shootings do suffer from PTSD afterwards and many survivors have committed suicide (CDC).

In reviewing the subject of school shootings, I read an article by Cody Fenwick regarding children and gun violence. His article was very alarming. Since it is the three year anniversary of the Park Side shooting and the nine year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, Fenwick’s article about children and guns is very important. His article also outlines a strong connection to guns and the senseless shootings and to the alarming numbers of teenagers who commit suicide with a gun. The article by, Fenwick, confirmed what I am hearing from teenagers and children in psychotherapy. Additionally, other school shootings, such as the one in Nashville, or the shootings in the Synagogue in Pennsylvania or in the Texas Church, confirm the need for gun control. A point the statistics in Fenwick’s article support.

Many of us feel because we live in Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek or Lafayette that our children and teenagers do not have to worry about gangs or gun violence. Unfortunately, this is not the truth. According to a new research study in the Journal of Pediatrics, guns continue to be the third-leading cause of death for Americans younger than 18 years old, killing around 1,300 children and teenagers a year in the United States. In addition, almost 6,000 children and teenagers are injured per year by guns. Many teenagers are permanently disabled from these gun injuries too.

The study examined data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Consumer Product Safety Commission between 2002 and 2014. The study found that boys, especially older boys such as teenagers and minorities, were much more likely to be the victims of gun violence. The study did not say anything about where the boys lived. The facts are children who are male and teenagers, are at a higher risk for becoming a victim of gun violence. Therefore, teenagers in our area are at risk of becoming a victim of gun violence.

The study does indicate there has been a decrease in accidental deaths such as boys cleaning a gun. However, the rate as a method for suicide has increased. I have mentioned before in other articles that suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10 year old boys. However, since the article was published, the CDC states that suicide is the second leading case of death for children 10 to 18 years old. This study confirms that the preferred method of suicide for boys and teenagers are guns. According to Katherine Fowler, one of the lead researchers at the CDC, “Firearm injuries are an important public health problem, contributing substantially to premature death and disability of children.” Understanding their nature [guns] and impact is a first step toward prevention.”

When we look at these numbers, can anyone argue against taking steps to protect our children? Can you imagine a 10 year old boy using a gun to kill himself? Can you imagine a 10 year old boy feeling that his life is so bad at the age of ten that death seems like a better option than living?

The study indicates that in recent years guns were responsible for a large number of adolescent, males who were murdered. The study documented that deaths in the category of murder for boys under the age of 18 years old decreased to 53 percent. This is a decrease yet the rate is still 53%. The other causes of gun-related deaths include:

• 38 percent — suicides

• 6 percent — unintentional deaths

• 3 percent — law enforcement/undetermined cause

The study found 82% of those killed due to a gun were boys. This means 82% of gun deaths were boys who were children or teenagers. Putting it another way, this means these boys were not even 18 years old yet at the time of their deaths. The study also found that white and American Indian children have the highest rate of suicide using a gun.

We also like to think that the United States in one of the most advanced nations in the world. However, the statistics show that the United States has the highest rate in the world for children under 14 years old committing suicide. Again, the United States has the highest rate of children under 14 years old using a gun to commit suicide. That number scares me and is appalling to me. However, as an adolescent and child psychotherapist, I do not doubt it. I have heard 6 year old boys seriously discussing suicide.

Furthermore, I hear teenagers routinely talking about needing to carry a knife or gun with them for protection. They tell me you never know when you will be jumped and you need to be able to protect yourself. In fact, a few years ago a teenager was shot on his front door step in Danville over a marijuana deal. When I mention to teens the risks they are taking by caring knives or guns, the boys tell me there is no guarantee they will live until 30 years old. They would rather die protecting themselves than doing nothing. Violence in our society has become so severe that many teenagers do not expect to live to the age of 30. Think about that fact.

As a society, we need to look at these numbers and ask ourselves some questions. What are we going to do in order to improve gun safety? Most importantly, why are children as young as 6 years old thinking about suicide? Also what are we going to do so that children who are suicidal have access to mental health care? This is our problem because it does happen in Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek and Lafayette.

The students at the high school in Park Side and the parents from Sunny Hook have marched and petitioned for sane gun control laws. Senators and former President Trump both promised to improve laws so children would be safe going to school. They are becoming angry and discouraged and how can you blame them? It is now 3 years after Park Side and 9 years after Sandy Hook, but there have been no changes. These students and families have been marching, holding rallies and speaking to Congressmen and Senators who have promised changes. However, nothing has happened so far. How long do these students and families need to wait for sane gun laws. Also, why should children and families believe us when we say we will keep them safe?

Dr. Rubino has 20 years experience as a psychotherapist working with children and teenagers. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

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.