I am not an emergency preparedness expert or a law enforcement officer. Nor am I a trained psychiatrist or a teacher that has had to go through this. I am simply a mom, desperately trying to reform the culture of lockdown drills we’ve imposed on a generation of children. As I rage against the status quo, I hear over and over that these are simply “the times we live in.” Times in which our children go to school and expect to die.
Wondering when we might be able to close the chapter on these awful crisis simulations, I dug into the history of when American schools finally stopped doing regular “Duck and Cover” drills. I learned that the anxiety, nightmares, and mental trauma the Baby Boomers went through — imagining bomb blasts in graphic detail as they hid under their desks — could be clearly recalled decades later.
Once the Cuban Missile Crisis ended and the images of mushroom clouds and fallout shelters faded from the news, so did the perceived need for “duck and cover” drills in schools. But the emotions and memories remained: childhoods filled with anxiety, fear, hopelessness, and lingering questions about whether the adults in charge were really making the world a safer place.
In the late 1970s, psychologists researched the impact of a perceived nuclear threat on children and teens. In response to the question, “What effects has the threat of nuclear war had on you?” one respondent said:
It has shown me how stupid some adults can be. If they know it could easily kill them I have no idea why they support it. Once in a while it makes me start to think that the end of my life, my time in life, may not be as far off as I would like it to be, or want.
We hear the same mixture of anxiety, depression, and frustration with adults in the rallying cries of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and other teens growing up with these drills. In an Upworthy piece by Annie Renau, Joe Burke (a high school student from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) gives us a modern-day perspective on how children view active shooter drills:
When we were sitting under the desks, I had a slight bit of doubt in the idea. To my fifth-grade self, it didn’t seem like the best idea to just be hiding if someone were to come in and try and hurt us. It would only take a few seconds of searching to find 25-plus kids and a teacher all cramped under those tables. … At the time, I automatically assumed that the adults knew more than we did. I figured that we were much safer than I realize we actually were, in retrospect.