Active shooter trainings: Are there unintended consequences?

U.S.

(NewsNation) — We’ve seen the drills, the staged simulations and the actual fear. The overwhelming majority of states now require school shooting drills, most with a goal of trying to better equip students, teachers and staff in case the unthinkable should happen.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, National Education Association and Sandy Hook Promise all said that the protection of classrooms is critical. Still, there’s a real push to make certain all the practice is helpful and not hurtful.

The worry is that all the practicing in U.S. schools is having a serious impact on mental health. A Georgia Tech study found that after a school shooter drill, students reported a 39 percent increase in depression and a 42 percent increase in stress.

“Whether or not you actually have a shooting, an actual shooting versus a simulated, you’re creating the same physiological response, serotonin, dopamine, crisis, flight or fight,” said Dr. Denise McDermott, a board-certified adult and child psychiatrist. “So to me, you’re actually creating a traumatic experience.”

McDermott believes there should be parental awareness of the drills.

“There should be a permission slip, do I want my child in this drill or not?” McDermott said. “So there’s got to be an awareness. And then the child should be prepped ahead of time. And if you don’t want your child to have it at school, it should be done at home.”

In recommending that school districts re-examine how they’re doing these drills, the American Academy of Pediatrics detailed: “One recent live exercise in which high school students were deceived to believe it was a real event, children sobbed hysterically, vomited, or fainted, and some children sent farewell notes to parents.”

The organization suggests no deception, meaning administrators pretending the drill is real, no fake blood or corpses, no using gunshot sounds and no predatory actors or rattling doors.

But in this era where the scenes of actual school shooting dominate the headlines, there’s a strong consensus that lockdown practice, if done safely and sanely, should certainly be on the curriculum.

McDermott recommends staying neutral and letting children set the tone after lockdown drills. She also sometimes treats her child a quick fun outing on the day of a drill to imprint a positive memory with practicing safety measures.

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