Youth Desensitization in the U.S.

Out of the 365 days in 2015, the United States saw 372 mass murders –– classified as four or more people killed or injured –– with 475 deaths and 1,870 injuries, according to PBS. With this staggering and terrifying data comes a problem less exposed: youth desensitization. This current outpouring of of violence has brought about an entire generation that is seemingly immune to any large-scale tragedy. The youth of today are exposed to so much coverage of so many mass shootings that as soon as another occurs, the reaction of the students dulls, therefore diminishing the perceived importance of the event as well. As more shootings and tragedies occur, both national and international, the youth become accustomed to the frequency of such events and in turn, place less and less emphasis on acknowledging their significance.

For example, take the shooting in San Bernadino, California. Prior to that attack, there had been 353 shootings already in 2015. With so much media and news exposure to mass shootings, the society as a whole, and specifically teens who have experienced their adolescence in the wake of these continual tragedies, are becoming desensitized. It may be frightening, but to many young Americans today, these catastrophes have become part of the expected norm.

“We are definitely desensitized,” reporter Faraji Muhammed said in an NPR broadcast. “I mean, I think the daily exposure to violence through the news that we get — it makes us more desensitized.”

However, there is an opposing side to the argument that we are becoming desensitized. Some argue that perhaps we are not becoming desensitized, but rather we are exhibiting a natural response to far away tragedies.

“When we hear stories [about mass shootings] . . . when’s the time for us to move on?” Muhammed said. “Are we supposed to send cards to the family?”

Muhammed makes a good point in questioning when we as a society need to move past mass shootings or what the appropriate acknowledgment is. It’s understandable that people, and teenagers especially, feel powerless to do anything when faced with these intricate and heartbreaking calamities. Maybe teenagers discounting these events aren’t exactly numb to them, but rather confused as to how to react.

And mass shootings are a touchy topic –– they are difficult to discuss for a single reason: they have a profound effect on a small group of people who, for the most part, we don’t personally know. Yes, mass shootings do have emotional effects on us students, but we are entirely disconnected from the victims and their families.

As high school students in Los Altos, California we are rarely connected to the victims of mass shootings. And while we read about them every day, the effects of the incidents are negligible. We are far removed. We move on.

While finding an appropriate reaction can seem difficult, I believe there is one right in front of us: Why not spend time in English or history classes covering these issues? I am a junior this year and currently enrolled in United States History. While this issue of mass shootings is not particularly old, it is still a part of our nation’s history, and I believe we should talk about it. If, or when, the next shooting occurs, we as students should push to include it in our classroom discussions. Discussing the numerous mass shootings would educate students about the severity and frequency of these acts. This past week, two teenagers from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma stabbed and killed their two parents as well as their three siblings –– I have not heard a single person talk about it once. It’s crucial to be aware of the world around us, and that’s just what humanities classes aim to do. Their goal is to make us more complex and analytical thinkers, and more empathetic creatures on the global scale. In English, we are consistently being taught the nuances of human nature, and we study history to be informed of where we come from and where we are going. So why not learn about where we currently are?

We, as high school students, have a lot on our mind –– classes, grades, college –– but ignoring or simply not paying attention to the atrocities that plague our nation and our world is unacceptable. When the next shooting occurs, we need to talk about it, and the classroom environment could be a perfect place to foster those discussions. We will in turn become more understanding of how to properly react, rather than simply discounting the tragedy as “another one.” There’s a good chance that if we can wrap our heads around an issue, we will start caring about it, and maybe we will feel a little less powerless in the face of all these trials and tribulations.