Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Kids in School Shootings Carry the Scars for Life

School shootings are no longer unheard of. They are becoming part of the American landscape in towns all across the country. How are they affecting our future generations?

A person with two assault rifles and one or more handguns killed three more children today in a school in Tennessee. Children now have to practice what to do if a shooter comes to their school instead of going out to have regular recess.

Playing games has been replaced with learning to run and hide for your life, and they do this in kindergarten, not just in college or high school. Young children are learning to live in a climate of violence in a place that should be safe; school.

Research shows that the trauma of a school shooting can have both short-term and long-term effects. It can make kids feel uncomfortable and hurt their academic performance, social and emotional development, and mental health. But the feeling of danger that is always present in classrooms where shootings have happened is especially frightening. It’s been estimated that 100K children were exposed to school shootings between 2018 and 2019. No wonder they bulldozed the school in Sandy Hook. They didn’t want kids to go back into classrooms filled with horrific memories.

For children who suffer or witness school shootings, the psychological repercussions can be profound and long-lasting. Children who attend schools where shootings have occurred are more likely to repeat a grade and have recurring absences. “Regardless of whether a shooting occurs in a community with high crime and violence or in a community that is historically safe and stable, school shootings have lasting ramifications for each family and also impact relationships among community members including parents, the school, law enforcement, and local government.”

So, a school shooting has a big impact on the whole community. There is then a sense that they are vulnerable and that something has been lost in their town. A shooting can happen anywhere and there is no safe town because a resident may be the one who engages in the shooting in their town.

Reports say that most people who carry out school shootings have problems with their own mental health. A K–12 mass shooting almost always involved someone who was suicidal either before or during the attack. The majority may also have endured substantial hardship or suffering throughout their formative years.

Children may experience emotional, psychological, and physical symptoms after a school shooting, such as nightmares, resistance to going back to school, headaches, stomach issues, and trouble sleeping. Victims of school shootings, including those who attend the school where the shooting occurred, may first experience feelings of rage, confusion, and fear.

Schools are frequently seen as a “safe haven” in more dangerous locations, which may explain why smaller-scale shootings frequently take place there. When outside violence enters the school, the neighborhood loses that place to gather safely for education and fellowship. But the sheer number of school shootings in areas not perceived as “dangerous,” no matter the socioeconomic status of the community, underscores that it is a soft target for people bent on killing.

Children who experience a school shooting also often suffer an increase in worry and terror. Students may have terrifying dreams, bothersome thoughts, and changes in behavior, like acting out shootings, pretending to die, or doing other things related to school shootings.

Because of what they saw, kids may have trouble trusting people and may not want to go to school. Would any of us want to return to the site of a mass killing where we feared for our lives? Would we want to go there every day of every week for years?

It is crucial to remember that students affected by school shootings include both those who were directly involved in the incident and those who were simply made aware of it. Some have indicated that seeing the media related to the shootings in a school would be sufficient to cause concern and emotional symptoms in a child.

The shootings can have a big effect on how kids act, leading to short-term and long-term problems like anxiety, fear, trouble in school, and being rejected by their peers. In order to help these kids cope with the trauma, it’s crucial to attend to their mental health requirements. In addition to providing tools to assist students affected by school shootings, parents and schools should take action to lower the risk of such incidents.

I recall that in graduate school many years ago, I had to do psychological testing on children in an elementary school in Harlem, NYC. The parents were very concerned about their children. Two mothers seated at desks immediately inside the front doors had to check that I had an appointment in order for me to enter the school.

I signed in, indicated with whom I was to meet, and wrote the time I entered. Then I was directed to the principal’s office where I was given a guide to take me to the appointed classroom. All the doors to the classrooms were locked, so that entrance was only when a teacher opened the door for you. But the doors had windows in themAnd that was before school shootings.

But should schools become armed camps with hardened building features and armed guards? Didn’t Sandy Hook have a special protective glass at the front doors? Should children be reminded on a daily basis that they’re going to an unsafe place?

What are the answers and how will we, once again, make school a safe place? The debate continues as the children are killed.

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Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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