Conundrums Surround the Culture of Fear
In elementary schools around the nation, words such as “barricade” are added to spelling lists; children are told to run in a zig-zag pattern to evade bullets; posters with lockdown instructions, sung to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” are hung on the walls of kindergarten classrooms.
The culture of fear surrounding school shootings is pervasive in every sense of the word. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 95 percent of public schools administered lockdown drills during the 2015-2016 school year. The Washington Post reported that more than 4.1 million students — one out of every four in the U.S. — experienced at least one lockdown drill in the 2017-2018 school year.
As understandable as these precautions might be, research shows that active-shooter drills might not be necessary, or in some cases, even psychologically damaging. Statistics show that schools are blowing active shooter preparation out of proportion compared to the actual risk.
According to The Washington Post, since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, fewer than 150 children and adults combined have died in school shootings. Furthermore, in 2016, there was less than one percent of total deaths in the age group among children ages five to nine. Accidental injuries such as car crashes were the most common causes of death, followed by cancer and congenital anomalies. Homicide came fourth. Statistics like these show the rarity of incidents of school shootings resulting in the death of children. A recent study published in The Atlantic argues that the funding put toward running drills and increasing security may be excessive. Instead, the funds could be funneled toward improving staff resources or upgrading school programs. The article argues these concrete changes would improve school life and safety more than active shooters do.
Two Opposite Tales: Child or Adult
Moreover, the act of instilling fear into impressionable children may be ingraining deeper issues that can carry into adulthood. Children face increased pressure in today’s society, forced to play into two opposite narratives: the small, innocent, vulnerable child who needs to rely on the protection of adults and the powerful mini-adult.
Erika Christakis of The Atlantic calls this second narrative “adultification,” which is “the tendency to imagine that children experience things the way adults do.” Increasingly in today’s world, we expect from children even in the minutiae of everyday life. Their lives are much more hectic and rushed compared to those of children a few decades ago. Conversely, we expect higher performance from them despite the increased stress.
Christakis argues that adultification “is a result of a mindset that ignores just how taxing childhood is.” By assuming children face little pressure or anxiety, we may be indirectly worsening the problem. According to The Atlantic, “almost half of all school-age children have experienced at least one ‘adverse childhood experience,’ a category that includes abuse or neglect; losing a parent to divorce or death; having a parent who is an alcoholic or a victim of domestic abuse; or having an immediate family member who is mentally ill or incarcerated.”
Scientifically, it is proven that when humans feel intense stress, the brain floods with stress hormones. Prolonged exposure to these hormones can permanently alter the brain and cause a host of psychological issues later in life. Knowing this, we are still increasing the risk for children today by teaching them to fear low-probability events such as school shootings.
The Devastating Outcomes
In contemporary society when children fail to meet expectations, it is often translated through as bad behavior, which is often treated by punishment or medication. In recent years, there has been a surge in ADHD diagnoses in children, especially those who narrowly make the cutoff for their grade - making them the youngest. This poses a question: are we medicating children for behavior that is actually suitable for their age?
It might not seem serious until the outcomes of these behaviors manifest in real life. After a false active shooter drill was triggered at Lake Brantley High School in Florida last year, many terror-stricken students began to sob hysterically, some vomited and even fainted. Others began to write farewell notes to their parents, seemingly under the impression they might die that day. It was revealed later that it was indeed a drill but no doubt, for many, the events of that day would be difficult to forget.
In modern day society, where advancements are made every day in science and health, the lives of children are guaranteed to be longer and of better quality compared to the lives of children mere decades ago. Nonetheless, some experts contend that active shooter drills are casting a sinister shadow on childhood today. It is a shadow that might be even longer tomorrow.
[Source: The Atlantic]