Media reports abound and no one needs to tell you how many kids, teens and young adults have been permanently scared by either involvement in a violent mass killing or watching one on TV. The evening news and social media are filled with ugly tales of war and the photos and videos of twisted, bleeding bodies of children or the need to constantly find cover from attacks.
Schools in the US now no longer have the old standby fire drills. Instead, they have active shooter drills where, in the 50s, we had atom bomb attack drills. Some of the same techniques are still suggested to save yourself from death or maiming; get under the desk, hide in a closet or near a thick wall, cover yourself.
Professionals and media are listing a host of ways for parents and adults to discuss the dangers and protections as well as how to reassure the kids. But, when the carnage continues unabated, seemingly, and kids, teachers and even parents are being killed, how do our reassurances resonate with the kids?
Undoubtedly, social psychologists as well as clinical psychologists will find the current situation grist for the research mill, but that is no comfort for the kids. Being enrolled in a research protocol provides no succor for these kids. How do we feel knowing that we need to do this research because there will be more shootings in the future? The cries of “Never again” ring out over the decades from Dachau to Sandy Hook School and now to Parkland, Florida where 17 were killed. Hopefully, it is not an empty cry.
Reassurances are, undoubtedly, needed and there will be months, if not years, of needed care to assuage the nightmares and daily trepidation these kids will experience. How does a child feel safe going to any school when, repeatedly, despite measures taken to protect them, there are massive murders? How does a child “get over” seeing their peer shot down, dead, beside them or taken off, bleeding and crying, to a waiting ambulance? The visuals are enough for adults to wrestle with, let along children.
Unquestionably, kids are going to experience some degree of
PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome) with all the attendant behavioral and emotional components associated with that diagnosis. Kids are being turned into patients even when intervention by counselors is immediate. Some kids will not exhibit the typical symptoms until some time after the assault. In fact, the range of reactions may be outside the usual expected range shown by children in other situations. We don’t know.
Who can the kids turn to when they’ve already been reassured, via media, that it’s happened yet again when they were told they’d be safe? Is “safe” a delusion, something they will experience or will there be a lingering fear that will inhibit their future adult lives in some unknown way? No one knows.
A generation of children will develop in ways we can only speculate now and it will be left to future cadres of mental health professionals to parse out the problems and resolutions. It will not be an easy task and the kids will suffer, of that there is no doubt in my mind. Their innocence has been shattered. How do we piece that together again or are we looking at something new we’ll call the Humpty-Dumpty Syndrome?
I’m not seeking new syndromes and I don’t want kids to suffer, nor
do I want those who treat them to suffer, either. The first responders, undoubtedly, will have invisible scars and they, too, will need care. No one comes away unscathed after seeing a dead child horribly killed by an assault weapon. Closed coffins tell a terrible story for all who attend funeral services or memorials.