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School Shootings May Mark Generation

How the Columbine Generation Can Cope With School Shootings
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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.

Advice for Parents

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.

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