School Shootings: The Columbine Generation Copes
A Columbine survivor speaks out about shool shootings and their impact on youths.
Affected From Afar
School shootings are rare, and when they happen, they obviously deal the
harshest blow to those on the scene and their loved ones. But they're not the
only ones who are affected.
"There's something called vicarious traumatization," says Russell T.
Jones, PhD, a professor of psychology at Virginia Tech University. "The
phenomenon seems to suggest that being repeatedly exposed to other traumatic
events can have a negative impact on a particular individual."
"There are at least some preliminary data that say that even though you
weren't there, by witnessing it on television or knowing someone that was
involved, you can in fact become traumatized at varying levels," says
Jones, who has a secondary appointment at Yale University.
After a School Shooting
Jones has three pieces of advice for people dealing with vicarious
traumatization after a school shooting:
- Don't watch too much of the TV coverage. "As they're playing it
over and over and over again, [don't] expose yourself to it," says Jones.
Poland agrees. "When I was at school a very long time ago I would have to
read a newspaper ... it wouldn't be front and center on television," he
says. "Frankly, I generally avoid the coverage. ... I'm not going to be
turning it on because it's very upsetting."
- If you're having trouble, get help. "Reach out to friends and
family members, talk about your feelings and your thoughts. This kind of thing
can be very helpful," says Jones.
- Don't let stigma stop you from getting help. Jones says he hopes
stigma about mental
health will decrease. "There's a lot of science behind helping people
following traumatic events, and it's our hope they will reach out for that
help and lead fruitful and productive lives," says Jones.
Experts recommend that parents talk to children about violence and safety,
but that conversation is "very different" when the child is a
college-aged young adult, says Tolan.
"The older the child, the more you want to talk about what's the meaning
of this [event], what would they do, and how they want to think about this
being a part of the society they live in," says Tolan.
Columbine Survivor's Advice
Lindholm has some recommendations
for people who have just been through a school shooting:
"The best advice I can give
them is not to isolate themselves. And that is exactly the thing you want to
do. You don't want to talk about it to your parents. You don't want to talk
about it to your family. And you really don't want to talk about it to your
friends because you kind of feel like they have no clue what you're going
She also encourages school
shooting survivors to show each other compassion. "I know there
[are] cliques and there always will be, but if they could just be
accepting for right now and make sure nobody's alone, even the weird kid that
sits in the corner. You know, you have to watch out for everyone right