Violent tragedies affect future generations


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By Brooke Pawling Stennett

There is nothing like waking up to the news of a tragic killing when you’re still reeling from the previous week’s mass murder.

The recent shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which left 26 people dead—including children—is one of the country’s worst mass shootings. That it comes on the heels of the slaying of eight people on a New York bike path makes it even more chilling.

Most college students will say the first national tragedy they remember is 9/11, when all of their teachers scrambled to turn on the TV and watch wide-eyed before school was cancelled for the day. Others point to the Columbine shooting of 1999, Challenger Explosion of 1986 or the Kent State University shootings of 1970.

But for children growing up today, a new national tragedy is happening all the time, and they can’t escape it. Social media and faster technology makes it easy to experience what’s happening around them. Usually, that’s a good thing. We want our future generations to be educated on what’s happening in the world. But at least when the TV was turned off after 9/11, children across the country could actually escape the gravity of it.

Children of all ages are being exposed to national gun violence with no reprieve. Whether it’s by gossip on the school bus, social media or overhearing the news while they get ready for school, it’s everywhere they turn. 

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a page dedicated to tips for parents on how they can talk to their children after a terrorist attack, and a separate page for a mass shooting. The NCTSN suggests parents spend time talking to children, maintaining rules and expectations and limiting social media exposure. 

No one can deny that constant exposure to violence affects children emotionally and mentally. According to the NCTSN, kids can become more angry and withdrawn, and the experience can radically change their expectations about the future after a shooting. These children will always remember what it was like to grow up when school shootings were the norm and schools started selling bulletproof panels for kids’ backpacks, just in case. 

We need better gun control laws, but we also need to be aware of the emotional toll national violence is having on future generations. If they fear the future, we have no chance of this country changing for the better. 

Teachers, parents and administrators cannot ignore the effect of these tragedies on children. Yes, social media can be limited, but if the conversation has already started, it is up to educators and guardians to ensure the dialogue doesn’t exacerbate fear or anxiety. They also have a duty to make sure the information they receive is correct. No child should fear their own death when they haven’t reached puberty or graduated high school. But these tragedies will continue to occur and affect children if we don’t do something about it. 

Ten or 15 years down the line when grown up children are sitting in a college class, some may say their first recollection of tragedy was the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, shooting, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre or Pulse nightclub hostage shooting.

Even for the kids too young to have a phone now, they might be able to later recall looking up at a TV at home and seeing Drew Leinonen’s mother sobbing on air, trying to find her son who was unknowingly dead after being gunned down inside Orlando, Florida’s Pulse nightclub.

While those accustomed don’t bat an eye, those who aren’t always remember.