Growing Up in the Era of School Shootings


From a recent interview: 

We want to focus on this generation of children and how they are growing up with such traumatizing events as a regular occurrence.

- How is this affecting them? 

That’s a good question. Since experience shapes the behavior and psychology of young people, it’s important for parents, educators, and mental health care professionals to ask ourselves the question: how does this culture of school shootings affect our developing children? One obvious answer is that our kids are scared. I read an article that many parents may have seen about an elementary school child who asked her mother for new shoes after the Parkland shooting, because she was afraid that the lights on her tennis shoes would draw attention and be unsafe in case of a school shooting. So for one, kids live in fear.

But on another level, these shootings shape the perceptions of other angry alienated kids looking for an outlet for their rage. Each incident builds upon itself, and if you read the interviews with previous perpetrators, the shootings are a kind of competition. Each shooter tries to commit a bigger, more notorious crime in comparison with the last.

And then the other piece is that this has become somehow “normal” in America. Our kids walk through these active shooter scenarios at school like fire drills and disaster drills of our own childhood. They don’t question any of it, because it’s all they’ve ever known. It’s just the way it is for them. 

- What can the long-term effects be?

Long term, the school shootings are shaping a hierarchy where angry, enraged, violent kids have taken power from the rest of the kids. Most kids are scared, and they may feel helpless. We have seen an attempt by the more recent victims, especially in Parkland, to empower themselves again and address those feelings of helplessness by speaking out.

- What kind of adults will they potentially turn into?

One of the major points made by my book is that development shapes identity. During the formative years, especially the teen and young adult years, what kids are busy “being“ becomes their lasting identity. The kids who are scared and helpless are very likely to continue to carry elements of fear and helplessness in their identities. Any kids who see violence as a way to obtain power are likely to maintain that view as an element of their growing identity into adulthood. And any kids to see themselves as advocates for change are likely to continue with that as a quality of their identity.

Of course, there is a whole lot more going on in the lives of most of our kids than school shootings. Their identities will be shaped by many things: their home and family lives, the culture of their education, the current values and beliefs of their peer groups. But this element of school shootings plays a role that we are as yet unable to quantify. 

- Other thoughts based on your expertise?

I think some of the focus on shooters being victims of “bullying” and the suggestion that it’s the fault of the kids for excluding someone may harm kind, caring kids. It’s the empathic kids who really listen to these messages from adults, and I fear they may believe they are personally responsible if someone acts out rage at school. Certainly we want to teach kindness and inclusion, but I think it’s the adults who need to show up and support angry, isolated youth. That task is too much to ask our kids to navigate alone.

Posted on May 21, 2018 .