In the wake of the mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas late Sunday night on October 1, 2017, we are a nation in mourning. Overwhelmed by sadness, why’s, knee-jerk responses, passionate social media posts, cries for gun reform, and blame; we are desperately searching for answers. Where does one even really being to process such a senseless act of violence and tragic loss of life? How do we explain the world in which we reside to our children? Who is responsible? Why did this happen? And how on earth did this happen?! Our questions are endless and sadly, many of them will remain unanswered. However, I would like to offer my insight to mass shootings in this country.
Growing up, I lived Columbine and other school shootings. Not lived through or experienced in the literal sense but the fear I felt, worrying if my idle Long Island town would be rocked by such violence was very, very real.
It was a terrifying time to be a teen. The media had dubbed the time period surrounding Columbine ‘Shooting Season’. Daily, my peers and I came to school and walked the halls with trepidation…
Anonymous notes flooded in to our counselors reporting any signs of odd behavior, depression, Goth kids, and anyone we considered to possibly perpetrate violence on a grand scale. It was a scary time coming to age during this era, all while the world was also on the brink of a cyber revolution.
According to MarketWatch, the break down for reasons the 10 Most Deadly Mass Shootings in U.S. History are as is follows: Both Mental Health Issues and Terrorism/Crimes of hate each account for 8/10 crimes committed. The remaining 2 acts of violence cite work place revenge and most recently; the massacre in Las Vegas is still a mystery as the motive is currently unknown.
What I am about to unearth are my theories regarding mass shootings in America. Some of my theories are deduced from my own experience, some research, and anecdotal evidence garnered as a public educator for 13 years. Much of the lens I am examining this problem is though the current youth, our education system, and other problems that I have identified in American society. You may very well not agree with me, but all I ask is that you keep an open mind and are receptive to my points. I aim merely to offer perspective and insight in a time when lucidity gets muddied as our emotions get the better of us.
1. Inability to Appropriately Address and Treat Mental Health Issues Properly
The mental health crisis in this country is one of great concern. It is truly an abomination how we recognize, treat, and care for our mentally ill. Depression, anxiety, and personality disorders are stigmatized, not talked about, and presented as if some dirty secret.
Additionally, health care is not readily available nor affordable to much of the population; therefore, compounding the issue for people trying to seek help.
Social workers and other mental health providers are over worked and underpaid. Schools often have only one social worker, who is shared between multiple school sites. Students are shuffled in and out of the system quickly because it’s overloaded and as if that weren’t enough, our society criminalizes the mentally ill!
As a public school teacher, I have read countless journals from my students about depression, self-harming behavior, and bullying. I have also observed/been privy to information regarding many disturbing behaviors in children from sexually assaulting other children with foreign objects, to children killing their pets and gloating about it. I have seen these problems get swept under the rug, dismissed, or not adequately addressed because we simply do not have the man power or resources to treat these children.
Every adult that has carried out mass shootings, was once a child—a student in someone’s classroom. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were teens who wrote disturbing pieces in their English classes, maintained online websites, and personal journals all leading up to the horrific Columbine Shooting in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999.
Where were the teachers? Why weren’t services offered to these boys? But really what I am talking about here, or wondering rather, is why haven’t we learned? Why can’t we have a real conversation about real issues and real things that matter? Who really gives a shit about Keeping Up with The Kardashians?! We have people who need our help and we are too busy distracting ourselves and cannot see the real issues deserving of our attention.
2. Cyber Revolution: Social Media and Instant Gratification
In 2000, as the millennium rapidly approached, accessibility to the internet, email, and a super highway of information was unleashed on the world. It is a known fact that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris used the internet as a means to conduct research to acquire weapons, build homemade bombs, and publically post their dark stories of death and murder. What we saw at Columbine, sadly would not be the end of the internet’s role in influencing mass shooter’s mindsets. Whether from exposure to Islamic radicalism, to self-imposed isolation/reclusiveness, or compounding depression and other mental deficiencies; the internet and access to information anywhere, anytime is certainly a factor in such violence.
According to the American Psychological Association, people toggling between 3 or more social media platforms are at greater risk for depression, anxiety, poorer concentration, and changes in mood. Other risk factors associated with extended use of various social media are the effects of cyber bullying, and the pressures of keeping up with the culture of various sites, etc. Ultimately, studies found that these kind of factors lead users to ruminate over their time on social media even when not using it, eventually leading users to negative thoughts about self and low self-esteem.
Our current world is one of instantaneous gratification. Our youth are accustomed to getting answers and communicating in real time. They send texts, direct messages, emails, and Snaps as a means of what they believe to acceptable forms of communication. All too often my students will send me direct messages on Instagram inquiring about class or homework as opposed to emailing me. Read receipts allow people to see when messages were viewed and if a response isn’t rendered immediately, hostility and anger brew within the sender. We are in dangerous water, living in this digital landscape. People expect, no, they demand a double tap on their Instagram photo, a follow for follow, unfollowing on Instagram is a personal affront, texts need to be answered instantaneously, and emails responded to in mere minutes.
Our thought processes are rash and impulsive. Keyboard warriors are hitting send and eagerly anticipating a response as they wage war on others and engage in discussions online in their efforts to communicate. So, as far as I am concerned, people’s ability to wait for things—anything, no longer exists. Science has continued to prove that the internet, social media, [and excessive gaming] have countless negative effects on the brain, social development, and mood.
Why are people so violent? So angry? So quick to act? Simple. Because in the world that exists between their thumbs, life plays out every time you slide your screen down to refresh your feed.
3. No Failure Mechanism in the Face of Moral & Societal Decay
Every generation looks back at their childhood and wonders what in the actual fuck happened to society in their adulthood. At present, I am in my mid-thirties and I find myself looking back at my youth thinking “Ahhhhh, it was a better time” AND the music was a helluva lot better. But perhaps it’s not that things were even better back in my childhood, so much as adulting seriously sucks when you realize the shit storm in which you reside.
We live in an era where words no longer have the meaning they used to. Everyone is overly sensitive, offended, triggered, or incapable of functioning ‘because their feelings were hurt’. Our society has completely and utterly degraded to the point where feelings take precedence over job and academic performance. People are rewarded not for winning or demonstrating mastery, but merely because they tried. Children are given participation awards—no more do we have winners, but everyone who showed up is a winner! Hooray! I do hope you are sensing my sarcasm here. We’ve bred a society of children, young adults, and millennials with zero coping skills and no ability to take feedback to improve because their feelings may get hurt. So when things don’t workout, or go their way; these young people are unable to unpack, cope, and process situations which ultimately culminate with poor behavior, violence, or depression.
Our culture of Nice has produced a bevy of people unwilling to honestly reflect, strive for excellence, and maintain a sense of integrity. In my 13 years in the classroom, I have personally witnessed accountability fall by the wayside as parents, students, and even administrators point fingers to assign blame rather than teach ownership. No one assumes any sort of responsibility; hence, failing to teach people consequences. Cause and effect are shadows of a bygone period. Schools no longer suspend and rarely, if ever expel students. Instead, Restorative Justice is offered as an alternative to Deans of Discipline. Students and teachers sit in a circle and share their feelings with the goal of ‘repairing harm’.
In our society, we are failing miserably at instilling character in our youth. We are not guiding or leading people and showing them how grit and determination will get you far in life. And conversely, we are not showing our youth what happens when you make poor decisions.
Friends. Family. Students. Fellow Americans. We must stand together and make positive change to see this nation soar again and prevent any more violence on such a large scale. Sure, compassion and love are part of the answer. But so is structure, taking care of people’s health, unplugging from social media, and putting an end to unjustly rewarding people/students.
Isn’t it clear that what we are doing isn’t working?
Isn’t it clear that we are failing one another tremendously?
Isn’t it clear that we can do better by those that are suffering?
Isn’t it clear that we need less time on our devices and more time making eye contact?
Isn’t it clear that our country needs radical change that isn’t just legislation?
The time for reform is now before more tragedy unfolds in our country.