School shooting rates have risen drastically since the 1990s. You hear the names of the lives lost, but whatever happens to the survivors of these tragedies?
In early 1999, two seniors in Littleton, Colorado decided to carry out a plan that would change the culture of the United States forever. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold perpetrated the largest school attack of their generation, creating a type of social crisis that would send America into mass hysteria with many questions begging to be answered.
One of the greatest questions that these shootings have raised is the effect of these events on the surviving students.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a school shooting is defined as “in the typical case, an event in which a student at an educational institution—an elementary, middle, or high school or a college or university—shoots and injures or kills at least one other student or faculty member on the grounds of that institution.” It also noted that the United States has been the scene of the vast majority of these attacks on a worldwide scale.
Stanford News stated in an article that since 2009, “over 50 times more school shootings have occurred in the U.S. than in Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom combined.” Stanford News also stated that “little is known about the effects of such gun violence on the mental health of the nation’s youth.”
As a citizen of the United States, it is cringe-worthy to realize the fact that we have let the culture of this nation become entirely too violent. It’s so violent, in fact, that many parents are even afraid to send their children to school on a daily basis.
Kate Stringer, a contributing writer for the74million.org, stated that the number of parents that feared for their child’s safety while at school has tripled since 2013.
Could this be because of constant media coverage? Are children watching too much news television these days? Is it ethical to cover tragedies such as these in such depth?
For the students who survive a mass shooting, their mental health takes the biggest toll.
According to the Research Institute of the Philidelphia Children’s Hospital, students and staff that witness such an event will likely suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder with symptoms such as anxiety or depression. They also may begin to have general concerns about their safety. While many of the witnesses may suffer from temporary symptoms, others may be symptomatic for a much longer time and could develop chronic mental disorders.
This article also mentions that the impact of this shooting reaches far beyond the school itself. The surrounding community loses its sense of sanctuary for its children and even affects local law enforcement.
While students in the United States continue to worry about their safety, a large portion of them are even skipping school because of their concerns. According to a study performed by Alfred University, 5.5% of students reported missing one or more days of school during the 30-day surveying period because they believed it was too unsafe to attend school that day. Hispanic students were the most afraid (9.6%), while African American students (6.6%) and white students (4%) also conveyed experiences of fear.
The Washington Post conducted a study and found that students’ standardized test scores have ultimately dropped after a shooting has occurred. They stated the following:
“Researchers examined a subset of the data from California schools, where they could access student-level data. The effect replicated. In other words, it is not due to changes in the population. When researchers examine test scores of individual students year-to-year, those scores dropped after the shooting.”
This same study revealed that ninth grade was the only level of education where enrollment was significantly impacted.
In an interview with CBS News, Sam Granillo, an eyewitness of the Columbine High School massacre, stated, “Survivors need years of counseling.” He also points towards survivor’s guilt as a main combatant to his current state of mental health.
Is news coverage partly to blame for the pandemonium?
According to Wayne Friedman of mediapost.com, “CNN had a Town Hall Special program titled "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action", which pulled in 2.9 million Nielsen viewers. MSNBC and Fox News Channel were not left out. During the same time period, Fox News Channel averaged 2.45 million viewers and MSNBC averaged 2.31 million.”
This is quite a spike for their numbers, according to Deadline.com. Fox News is the only major news source on television gathering over one million daily viewers.
Just by examining the data, it suggests that some may actually be benefitting from these shootings occurring and exploiting the situation for viewership.
The American Psychology Association has even reported on this issue, stating that parents should begin to monitor the amount of television news coverage their child watches because of its lasting mental effects and stress it can have on the adolescent mind.
There is really no true way to stop a mass shooting from occurring. So, we must focus more on damage control and the aftermath of the event.
If a child is subjected to witnessing a horrific event such as a shooting in their school, a viable option for them to aid the healing process would be to stick to a consistent routine. The American School Counselor Association states that a normal routine helps build a sense of security and predictability for a child after a traumatic event has occurred.
In many cases, hiring licensed counselors and child psychologists help students convey issues they may be having, seeking help that they may not have access to outside of school.
This association also suggests to parents to limit their children’s exposure to television and news coverage. In agreement with the American Psychology Association, limiting the amount of disturbing television content a child observes can help make them feel more secure. Research shows that some young children could believe that the events are reoccurring each time they see televisions replaying the news footage of the event.
With students of this generation seemingly having unlimited access to media, it is important to talk with young children about what they are viewing online to see if they have any questions or if they feel uncomfortable. The American School Counselor Association also states that reassuring your children that the world is generally a good place, but there are “bad people” who do “bad things” is beneficial to their mental health. But one must be honest with kids and share as much information with them as their maturity level can handle.