As a parent, I’m horrified to be writing about the uptick in school shootings in America of late. On average, there has been at least one school shooting per week for the last several months. So far this year, there have been 23 school shootings that have resulted in casualties, according to a CNN reported statistic (and we’re only in the 21st week of 2018!). I’ve thought long and hard about why there have been so many recently, and I do not think it is merely due to the prevalence of gun ownership in America. Criminals would get guns no matter what. America in general, and most states in particular, have strict gun laws. There are required background checks, waiting periods, mandatory safety training, etc…but the people who commit crimes with guns are not people who are purchasing guns legally. When it comes to school shootings, we are talking predominantly about younger shooters, school age children in their teens or preteens, who commit murder or attempted murder against their peers.
As a teacher in a school, I see on a daily basis, the disenchantment my students exhibit with going to school. Most view it as a waste of time or a necessary evil. I also have a front-row view of kids becoming ever more addicted to social media and media in general, while they are concurrently becoming less and less sensitive to other human beings’ feelings and needs. If one’s face is in a screen the majority of the day, how will he/she handle a real one-on-one conversation or relationship with someone else? I keep flashing back to that scene in Wall-E in which all the people are riding around on self-propelled, screened vehicles to which their eyes are glued. These characters didn’t know anyone else existed. What a prescient movie!
The negative effects of our media-addicted society cannot be discounted either. When a young person is surrounded by social media, through which recorded videos of violent acts gain viral status almost instantaneously; movies that glorify gore and guts violence; and TV shows and video games that grant hero status to whoever kills more people most effectively in the shortest periods of time; it is not too surprising when he/she becomes desensitized to violence and even enamored of the idea of gaining fame and notoriety in the social media world by committing a violent act against others.
There have been scientific studies about cell phone addiction and its consequences in terms of increased anxiety in our children. These studies have shown that students and children feel a tremendous amount of stress and pressure to keep up with the social statuses of their peers. G-d forbid a child isn’t on his/her phone or on some form of social media for a short period of time (say, to sleep), he/she misses out on so much that he/she feels like a total square. Let’s not forget cyber-bullying, which is widespread and malicious. Where might a student get the anger and hatred to commit a shooting? If that student has been bullied online or in person, or he/she feels underrated by his/her peers for whatever reason, he/she may just take revenge against those peers and show them who’s boss!
That said, our social trends are not helping to prevent violent acts from being perpetrated by our youth either. Our society teaches kids that each is the most special, the most unique, and that anyone who fails to recognize their superiority deserves punishment. Parents bend over backwards to please their little darlings and to make them feel wonderful about themselves. Teachers are instructed to make use of only positive reinforcement and to look for the strengths of their students, rather than calling their students out on their flaws and failings. Yet while there isn’t anything wrong with making use of positive reinforcement in both home and school, it needs to be balanced with negative reinforcement or real life consequences when a child does fail or behaves inappropriately. A child or student must be taught to be honest with him/herself and to assess his/her own strengths AND weaknesses in order to improve and mature. If we teach our youth that there is nothing to improve and that anyone who doesn’t agree is not worth living, then why shouldn’t a student who feels “dissed” by his/her peers or teachers or school administration lash out at those whom he/she perceives are the reasons for his/her poor self-esteem and anger?
The issue of how the child got the gun to perpetrate the shooting isn’t really as relevant to the actual crime as the background factors that built up a person who COULD commit such a crime as a school shooting. I’m deeply afraid that we are raising a generation of spoiled, self-entitled children who are incapable of forming meaningful, real relationships with their peers or adults, thereby causing an ever-increasing number of potential future killers. What happens to the value of a life when people can so easily get rid of anyone they don’t like by “unfriending” them or when one can destroy a self-perceived adversary or threat by completely obliterating them socially via the internet. It’s so easy to utterly destroy a person at the touch of a button that the concept of destroying someone physically isn’t anathema to many people anymore.
Is there a solution to the growing number of school shootings in America? Perhaps we Americans might learn a thing or two from Israel about how to raise socially responsible adults who have a strong sense of community and national pride. Maybe if all of our children had to do mandatory army service after they finished high school; maybe if they were raised to actually respect our veterans and mourn those who gave their lives for our safety; maybe if our schools were places where individual students were taught that their first responsibility is to others rather than to themselves; maybe if schools and parents mandated a certain number of community service hours per week; maybe if Americans didn’t bash our own country and our own president every second of every day–our children might grow up with a sense of pride and self worth that are gained by being valuable to others and being part of a greater whole.