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Are Active Shooter Drills Harming Kids Mental Health?

Off the top of my head, I would probably agree that active shooter drills are pretty traumatic.

The false alarm in this story is perhaps worse.

The Hidden Trauma: Unpacking the Impact of Active Shooter Drills & False Alarms on Students

I can already hear folks my age and above talking about living through the Cold War and preparing for nuclear attack, and how terrible that was, etc. I get it. I’m 55 years old. I lived through a lot of that, too. I knew where the fallout shelter was at my school. We practiced getting there. We saw movies and TV shows about nuclear attacks. I’m going to argue that it was different, though.

It was different because I think, deep down, we all knew if a full-blown nuclear war happened, we would be dead. There wasn’t anything for us to do. It would either happen or not, and no action on our part would make much of a difference. So, was it stressful and traumatic to have a nuclear war on our minds all of the time? Yes. But it was also beyond our ability to change.

School shootings and active shooter drills are something else. Kids being put through those drills have been taught that surviving a shooting is dependent on them taking the correct actions.

Think of it this way. As a kid, I knew a nuclear attack could happen, but if a nuke landed in my neighborhood, there wasn’t any action I could take to avoid it. The whole area would be obliterated with me in it. In an active shooter situation, it’s up to me to remember all the correct procedures and actions I’m supposed to take, and I’ll have a chance to get out alive. Not remembering, and I’ll die, partially because I screwed up.

I would argue the shooter situation is a bit more stressful. It’s also, in some ways, victim blaming. And it happens repeatedly as we drill these kids or have false alarms. How many times must pre-teen children hide in a closet, unsure if someone with an AR-15 is going to come in the room to shoot before it makes them a little unwell? One would seem to be enough.

The question is, what are we going to do about it? I won’t drag you all through the arguments for and against gun control. That’s not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is the lack of resources available for the large number of kids dealing with mental health issues and the casual way we seem not to recognize all the ways we make things worse. The author of the article above suggests that these drills and false alarms are harmful. Living through that, getting an all-clear, and immediately going back to school work does seem to be a pretty horrible way to go about dealing with what just happened to these kids.

But what is the least harmful way to deal with that? What is the least harmful way to inform kids of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza? What is the least harmful way to prepare kids for the natural disasters that seem only to get worse each year?

I don’t know. What I do know is that dealing with all of this is hard and only part of the causes of increased needs for youth mental health. Our current mental health system failed many people for years when the need wasn’t this high. What we are doing isn’t working. Continuing to do the same thing won’t work. Fighting against increased funding and availability of resources won’t work. Hiding our heads in the sand and saying, “not my kid,” won’t work. This is a society-wide problem that will require societal change. I am not sure we are willing to make those changes, but an entire generation of kids will pay the price for that unwillingness.

That I know.

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