Impact of School Shootings News on Children

Mental health shortage and gun surplus.

It’s Tuesday morning, Valentine’s Day, and I’m sitting on my couch, coffee in hand reading the daily news (sleepily scrolling TikTok) when I’m shaken awake by a Michigan State student telling me her story of surviving a mass shooting just hours ago. 

The 21-year-old tells of fearing for her life while across the street from Berkley Hall, where the shooting was unfolding. Only to be reminded of another time she had survived a school shooting as an 11-year-old. The Sandy Hook Massacre, that resulted in the death of 28 individuals in less that 5 minutes, left the now MSU senior with a PTSD fracture in her back from crouching in the corner with her elementary school classmates. 

In shock, I put my phone down as my mind begins racing in confusion and caffeine-deficiency. “There’s no way that’s a recent video. There wasn’t another mass-shooting. Sandy Hook wasn’t 10 years ago and there’s no way that those kids are now adults.” 

But it was true. The Sandy Hook Massacre happened 10 years ago, and the shooting at Michigan State happened last night.


Mental Health and Mass Shootings

I continue to move through my morning routine of pouring a warm mug of coffee and cold sippy-cup of milk (one for me, one for my 1-year-old – she takes it black) and pretend everything is normal. But it’s not; how can it be? How can we pretend like we are not affected by innocent kids and teachers being killed? How can we expect this to not impact the way we see children, schools, public places… the world? How in the hell can we expect our kids to?

But that’s what we do, we move on, forget the past, and pretend like we and our children shouldn’t be bothered. All the while, schools are pairing algebra lessons with active-shooter drills to prepare for what to do when the next school shotting occurs. Practice your multiplication tables and how you will hide from a killer, and you’ll be prepared for both! But kids are tough; they’ll bounce right back! 

As a child therapist, I’ve heard things like; “they’re young or they will get over it” too many times to count. The truth is, that kids are just like adults when it comes to experiencing trauma. While some adults (and children) can experience traumatizing events and present as unaffected, others could be debilitated. With this in mind, it is reckless to think that kids are immune from terror of experiencing and learning about school shootings and its potential to devastate their mental health. 

Research shows that increased concern of school shootings predicts an increase in anxiety and panic symptoms in young people. This, along with the increased worry of mass-killings can cause post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression, especially in those who live in a close proximity of a school shooting. 

Hearing news of another mass shooting and moving through our routine without missing a beat won’t do. Scrolling to the next video and telling ourselves that “they’re kids, they’ll get over it” is harmful and irresponsible.

We must let ourselves, and our kids, sit with the emotions that come after hearing the news that another family has to bury a child after a school shooting. We can’t lie and say everything’s okay after another Sandy Hook or Uvalde happens. And we can’t turn our heads as a student goes through yet another mass shooting before they graduate college.

Tips for helping your kids with difficult news

  1. Ask them what they know. Don’t assume that they know or don’t know what is going on, let them tell you and then fill in the gaps with age-appropriate facts. If they don’t quite grasp the concept of death, this may be a time to begin this discussion if they are ready. 
  2. Brace for anxiety. Give them tools to deal with the difficulty even if they don’t express worry. We are raising our children in a different society where gun violence is the norm. Teach and model coping skills for managing anxiety such as deep breathing or grounding.
  3. Be sad. While sadness and depression are not always helpful, it exists for a reason. We must show that it’s okay to be sad about another child being murdered. Sadness about this shows that we are humans with empathy
  4. Let them use their voice. If your child is particularly affected by these tragedies, give them ways to help. Let them write a letter to their congressperson or senator. Show them resources online like Let them share with others. While they may not be able to change the world now, they soon will.
  5. Seek help from a professional. There are plenty of resources to help your kid if they need more help. Talk with your school counselor or find a child therapist.

Reference: stats of rise of shootings