• Olivia Wong

The Uptick in School Shootings: Screens, Seclusion, and Social Media

With the unprecedented amount of school shootings and unrelenting rise of gun violence, the large and looming threat of this nightmare is becoming terribly personal and real in America’s schools. From the massacre at Sandy Hook in 2012 to the Oxford tragedy in November 2021, school shootings have seen an incline despite ground-breaking movements and nationwide fear. Students and families around the country have been wondering about the causes and solutions for these events in order to dispel the intensity of the emotions surrounding this sensitive topic. However, there is reason to believe the pandemic and social media have heavily contributed to the normalization of violent language and the frequency of non-credible threats, especially in school-aged children.

With a new TikTok trend going viral regarding shooting threats on December 17, 2021, schools have begun to take real action to bump up police presence around school zones in order to prevent the unrelenting presence of school shootings in recent years. The accessibility and freedom to post harmful content on platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat is damaging students’ perspectives and adding trauma to their lives at school. To receive an education in a safe and comfortable environment should be a basic right. Although, it seems that lately, no school is safe from the potential devastation of a shooting, as well as its harmful effects on students’ mental health and well-being.

With the pandemic still raging, the consequences of more than a year of learning from home must be considered. The little-to-no in-person interactions with peers and the loss of the sense of routine have hindered the development of children and adolescents, and aspects of the transition back to regular school have shocked many students this year. The consequences of the constant changes from what many know as their “normal” routines have shown themselves in the behaviors of young children. For instance, the widely accepted and normalized act of hiding behind a screen and seeking attention through views and likes has hindered children's senses of real self-esteem and heightened their insecurity. At this age, kids know how to make a video go viral and often become addicted to the feeling of being noticed, whether it is positive or negative.

This, compounded with the decline in mental health from over a year of quarantine, has made it infinitely easier for adolescents to access the dark side of platforms. Although social media has the incomparable ability to garner momentum for movements and amplify emotions surrounding these types of tragedies, the concern is that misinformation can be spread with one click, and companies have done little to prevent or stop it. In addition, with such sensitive issues, there is a very thin line separating truth and lie, but the result of overlooking threats is life or death. This is complicated further when considering the mental health of students affected by the continuous presence of these warnings, real or not. Many have been struck with fear, and the recent Oxford incident puts the thoughts of these shootings at the forefront of children’s minds while they are supposed to be learning in school. Administration and teachers are also impacted because their responsibilities as leaders and roles in prevention are extremely important to the safety of their students. In Philadelphia, college students deal with the chance and fear of gun violence every day, though people should no longer have to adapt to this reality.

There are many paths regarding solutions to this serious problem because no one thing can solely be blamed. In addition to reforming gun laws, schools and parents must consider the invisible effects of the pandemic on children's mental health as well as the role of social media in shaping their opinions and behaviors. However, this should be a group effort: it is the government’s responsibility to protect its young citizens, too. Targeting social media companies such as TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, & Facebook and implementing policies to stop the spread of misinformation and violent language can be one step closer to decreasing the prevalence of these threats. Furthermore, it is partly the duty of adults in schools to take necessary steps to prevent these incidents and take precautions, especially after considering the alarming statistics regarding gun violence. For instance, Sandy Hook Promise states, “In 4 out of 5 school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it.” After knowing about the clear warning signs of fifth-grader Ethan Crumbley, the Oxford shooter, there is no excuse for the lack of action and ignorance of a very serious threat by the school district. Now, it is the rest of the nation’s duty to learn from this mistake as students around America struggle with the crippling fear of gun violence in their schools.

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