Majority of Teens Worried About a Shooting at Their School

A majority of U.S. teenagers are worried about a shooting happening at their school.

That worry is leading to feelings of anxiety for students across the country, impacting them in the classroom and at home.

At a time when most teens are planning for the summer, many are planning for a way out, should something happen.

"We kind of do plan where we would go and what is the safest place. That's not really a normal thing I think teenagers should be worrying about and talking about with their friends," 17-year-old Ana Molina said.

According to the Pew Research Center 57 percent of the nearly 1,000 teens surveyed said they were worried.

A quarter of that group said they were very worried.

Molina and her classmate, RaQuel David, said they are not surprised by the numbers.

"There are just so many kids and you just never know. Maybe it's someone that I've seen and they are the school shooter. What if they take my life?" David asked.

The survey was conducted after 17 people were killed at a Parkland, Florida high school, but before last week's shooting in Santa Fe, Texas that left 10 people dead.

Though seemingly more frequent, school shootings remain rare. Yet, Molina and David both said they find themselves feeling anxious with every fire drill, lock down drill or simply by someone unfamiliar walking into class.

"Sometimes I just sit there and just try to tell myself on the inside to calm down. It will be OK," David said. "It can be overpowering."

What Molina and David are feeling is normal in the aftermath of a school shooting, but Dr. Nicholas Westers, a clinical psychologist, said it becomes abnormal when the anxiety persists for more than a few months, especially if another shooting has not happened.

"Teens often look to other, same age, peers to determine what is the best way to act or respond. In situations like this there really is no way that they can know what to do and so they are oftentimes left with feelings of anxiety and powerlessness," Westers said.

The anxiety can distract students from their work and impact their relationships with their peers.

Westers said it is in the best interest of students to acknowledge the anxiety.

"One of the hallmarks of anxiety is what we call catastrophic thinking - having a situation in mind that's really scary and overestimating the likelihood that it will occur. A lot of the anxiety is stemming from the possibility that it could happen at my school but there is no way of knowing," Westers said.

The doctor said parents should check in with their children regularly and empower them to face the anxiety.

"When a teen can feel their emotions being heard, they're validated, and they're articulating them well and they're creating change or making a difference in their community or schools, that can be an incredible tool for them in healing," he said. "Be true to your emotions. The more we avoid them the more suffering it can cause."

Molina said it's unfair that teens now have to balance the anxiety of worrying about safety with other teenage concerns like school, college and work.

"There are people who want to invalidate our emotions and how it affects us. They say, 'You weren't in the shooting you don't know anyone.' But they don't know what it's like on your mental health and the anxiety it causes," Molina said.

After the Santa Fe shooting both students said they felt numb. They are resigned to the fact that if nothing changes things will stay the same.

"It worries me because I have four siblings," Molina said. "Maybe one day I'll become a parent. Is it something I'm going to have to worry about for my kids?"

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