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How to Help Kids Manage Anticipation of School Shootings – Psychology Today

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As the lines between real and fake blur, Americans increasingly chase the idea of authenticity. The first step may be to consider self-knowledge, truthfulness, and other building blocks on the road to personal growth.
Verified by Psychology Today
Updated | Reviewed by Ray Parker
Kids shouldn’t fear wearing light-up Skechers at the risk of being spotted by a school shooter. We’re all past numb from the prevalence.
Sadly, much of the world has tuned out to our plight of mass shootings in general. It’s simply considered “an American thing” by outsiders.1, 2 Like, “Those silly Americans and their love of guns and lack of conflict resolution skills.”
“We’ve tried nothing, and we’re all out of ideas.”
The overriding anxiety felt by students and parents alike related to school shootings is, “What if?” As in what if it happens to my child or a loved one? At the time of this writing, there were 98,755 public schools: 13,477 middle schools, 2,500 junior high schools, and 23,900 secondary schools in the U.S.3
Statistically speaking, even within the gun-nuzzling ethos of the United States, your child’s chance of being directly affected by a school shooting is exceptionally low. Similarly, few of us will encounter a shark either. But the moment we wade into murky water, we’re sure we’ll be eaten by JAWS.
If you see something troubling on social media, if you hear of someone getting bullied, if you hear threats being made—even as a joke—or if you have a chance to make contact with another kid on the fringe who has been sidelined or socially banished by their peers, reach out. You don’t have to become best friends, but it comes down to basic humanity. A simple, “Hey, you doing OK?” can save lives.
In four out of five school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it.4 Nearly all mass school shooters shared threatening or concerning messages or images. More than 75 percent of school shooters raised concern from others before the attacks, and bystanders saw warning signs in most documented active shooter cases.5
Question: How many members of Congress does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: More guns.
Rather than tired platitudes after the fact, proactively reach out to the marginalized, the misfits, the loners, and the bullied. It works. Oftentimes it’s the kid everyone predicted would do something. There were red flags, complaints, warnings, and derelict parents. Then, there was access to a gun.
What does not work is retroactivity. Security measures like active shooting drills, police response, armed campus security officers, etc., are reactionary and never meant to prevent a shooting, only to slow or eventually stop one that has begun. There is little to no evidence indicating that reactionary policies have any effect on reducing school shootings.6
Research advocates that schools expand access to counseling, increase training of school personnel on threat assessment and mental illness, use interdisciplinary threat assessment teams, monitor and follow up on treatment plans, expand involuntary treatment, implement bullying prevention, and increase interdisciplinary communication.7
The goal is not to remove all anxiety about school shootings. That would be unreasonable. It’s normal and healthy to have some anxiety about this issue. The goal is to bring it down to a more helpful level.
“Y’all got any more of that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)?”
California-based adapted physical education specialist and certified youth fitness coach Jared Sellers emphasizes fitness and sports movements as effective tools to reduce anxiety and boost mental health. Fitness and motor movements allow kids to self-regulate feelings of anxiety and depression while adding overall strength and fitness.
There’s something important at play here called BDNF. This is a powerful, exercise-produced growth factor that aids in the repair of brain cells, improves memory, increases the growth of new brain cells, and more. It’s truly a humble, heroic substance.
The enhanced brain BDNF levels that follow exercise have a clinical improvement in anxiety and depression.8 And BDNF levels increase with regular bouts of exercise. Many researchers now believe that regular exercise is the single best way to produce BDNF to naturally alter mood and reduce anxiety. This kind of makes you a moving, happy factory.
When you or your child over-consume threatening news, the amygdala is reinforced and strengthened. The amygdala (located in the middle of your brain, one in each hemisphere) is central to your anxiety response. They can grow in size over time.
Whereas when you reduce how often you expose the brain to this threat, your amygdala will be less activated over time. Limiting exposure – so hot right now.
Create an internal locus of control. An internal locus of control occurs when you feel like you have more influence over your life versus an external locus, which leaves you feeling controlled by outside influences.
You feel more in charge of your destiny. You do this by being proactive through activities like shifting your focus to the positive experiences going on at school, talking to teachers and school administrators about your concerns, or being informed of your child’s active shooter drills. Visit the Sandy Hook Promise website for more proactive opportunities.
If you feel your students’ anxiety about school shootings is overwhelming or interfering with their lives, have them talk with a mental health professional. Any anxiety related to school shootings is normal and deserving of help—for parents and students alike.
To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory
References
Jenkinson, C.S. (2022) A European’s perspective on gun violence in America, Governing. Available at: https://www.governing.com/context/a-europeans-perspective-on-gun-violen…
What other countries say about the gun violence problem in the U.S. (no date) Yahoo! News. Available at: https://news.yahoo.com/countries-gun-violence-problem-shooting-us-canad…
National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]
Vossekuil, B., Fein, R. A., Reddy, M., Borum, R., & Modzeleski, W. (2002). The final report and findings of the Safe School Initiative. Washington, DC: US Secret Service and Department of Education
National Threat Assessment Center. (2020). Mass Attacks in Public Spaces – 2019. U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security
Reeping P, School shootings are preventable, not inevitable BMJ 2022; 377 :o1378
Gregory, S.D., Park, J.S. Mass School Shootings: Review of Mental Health Recommendations. School Mental Health (2022)
Bathina, S., & Das, U. N. (2015). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its clinical implications. Archives of medical science : AMS, 11(6), 1164–1178
Jon Patrick Hatcher, M.A., is the author of 101 Ways to Conquer Teen Anxiety and Anxiety Hacks for an Uncertain World.
Get the help you need from a therapist near you–a FREE service from Psychology Today.
Psychology Today © 2023 Sussex Publishers, LLC
As the lines between real and fake blur, Americans increasingly chase the idea of authenticity. The first step may be to consider self-knowledge, truthfulness, and other building blocks on the road to personal growth.

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