I worry about this generation of children who are experiencing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) because they went to school. There have been over 30 school shootings in our country so far this year. While the media focuses on the body count to breathlessly report how many were killed or injured, they overlook the “collateral damage” – children who heard the dreaded announcement “active shooter” and “lockdown” and whose lives were transformed by witnessing violence, terror, and chaos.
Those who experience life-threatening terror carry that with them forever. Our children have been forced to consider their mortality at too young an age. There are poignant stories of children and teenagers who texted their parents loving messages because they feared it would be their final communication. A young girl used a marker to write her mother’s name on her arm to help authorities identify her body. She survived that day, but carries with her the soul-shaking fear that comes from suddenly confronting death. No adult would choose that experience, yet it has become increasingly commonplace for our children. Every time a school shooting occurs, students across the country wonder – could we be next? They are understandably afraid.
Being a teenager in the 21st century is inherently filled with stress and anxiety. There are the normal teenage concerns like juggling overfilled schedules, studying, worrying about college and/or work, discerning one’s identity and sexuality, and sorting through the pressures of social media and online bullying. All of that would be more than enough.
But now teenagers have an additional pressure – the call to be a hero.
We want to honor young men like Kendrick Castillo and Riley Howell who sacrificed their lives so their classmates could escape. But teenagers shouldn’t have to worry about being brave enough to face gunfire in order to attend high school or college. It isn’t their job to be heroes in order to obtain their education.
We adults aren’t doing our job. We should be protecting our children. Instead, we are allowing two complex issues – mental health services and gun control – defeat us.
If children can be brave enough to go to school despite the real dangers that exist, we adults need to have the courage to make the necessary changes to provide a safer environment in which to grow and learn. We could start by providing every school with more social workers and counselors. We cannot afford to ignore the urgent mental health needs of our young people.
We could start by banning automatic weapons. Private citizens don’t need them.
I have no easy answers to offer and no quick-fixes to prescribe. But we cannot afford to be paralyzed into inaction. We need to work together to find solutions.
Our children need us.