Like older adults who grew up with the threat of nuclear bombs during the Cold War, children are now growing up with mass shootings — the new normal.
Since the Columbine massacre in 1999, kids began participating in school lockdown and active-shooter drills. Some also face metal detectors, bulletproof bunkers and other security measures in their schools. Classrooms no longer seem like a safe place and this stress may be impacting children’s long-term health and development.
Victor Carrion, MD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, studies the interplay between brain development and stress vulnerability. In a recent Stanford Magazine article, he offers advice on how families can cope with the stress of school safety:
- Parents should proactively talk with their child about difficult topics in a developmentally sensitive way.
- If parents are worried about their child’s stress level, they should look for a change in function. Very young children can become clingier. Older kids often convert depression or anxiety into physical symptoms like a stomach ache or headache. And adolescents frequently withdraw.
- School drills should include three steps: a school orientation about the drill, the actual drill practice, and a follow-up discussion to help children process how they felt during the exercise.
- School administrators, teachers, parents, police and the community need to work together to create an environment where the child feels safe, secure and protected.
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