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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.

With the atomic bomb, at least we knew where missiles might come from, the likeliest targets in the U.S., and the layers of safety within a blast’s radius (though this knowledge probably didn’t make us feel much safer). Today, with homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) and ‘lone wolves’ that actually hunt in online packs, it’s much harder to assure ourselves that we are taking all necessary precautions. There is just not enough research about active shooter drills (like ALICE) to determine whether they are more effective than simple lockdown drills at preparing students for an armed intruder. And even if they are, we do not know if the benefits outweigh the emotional costs.

To put this in perspective, the likelihood a child will be killed at school is less than one in a million according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The chances of dying in a car or traffic accident are one in 5,000. And I feel comfortable on the road with my children knowing that I have taken steps to purchase a vehicle with safety features, installed the recommended car seats for their age and weight, and acquired training on how to drive a car at the appropriate speed limit.

I do not need to simulate car crashes — with swerving and screaming and fire — for my children to understand what to do in the event of an emergency. There is no benefit to enacting a realistic car crash scenario that would outweigh the associated anxiety and trauma. Though I may not be able to prevent a car accident from occurring one hundred percent of the time, I have peace of mind that I’ve done enough to increase our odds of survival if it ever does happen.

I understand that some administrators, teachers, and even parents believe we must do everything possible — and rehearse every scenario — to get an A+ at active shooter preparedness. But if the number one safety recommendation is a classroom door that can be locked from the inside, and if all adults in the building are knowledgeable of the lockdown protocols, then to what degree do children young and old need to be involved in the process?

Even if some claim students are so desensitized that lockdown drills feel as benign as fire drills, we must recognize that young people today are under an incredible amount of anxiety and stress. Adding the realistic shooting simulations in schools only adds to it. (Also not to gloss over the emotional trauma experienced by teachers during these drills as well.)

There has not yet been any evidence that forced, repetitive lockdown drills involving students — silent in a dark room, sitting in closets or under desks, worried their light-up shoes will give them away — is so much more beneficial than a simple locked door. Aside from weighing the psychological costs, we need to recognize the amount of educational time lost to these drills throughout the year.

As I said, I am not an expert, so I don’t have all the answers as to what should be involved in a lockdown preparedness drill. However, I do know that something else must be done. We must heed the advice of Steven Schlozman, M.D., from the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, who writes:

The fact is, we simply don’t have an understanding of best practices yet with regard to the proper preparation for school shooters. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have drills; that just means that our drills should take into account the developmental state of the child population, as well as the unique vulnerabilities that each child will bring to these drills.

When will the “duck and cover” drills of the mass shooting generation eventually be consigned to the history books? When will we look back and ask, “What were we thinking?”


Though I sometimes feel too much damage has already been done to our country, I know we can start to make changes for kids in schools right now. Beyond working to eliminate active shooter drills, we need to listen to what kids are asking for and what makes them feel safe. We need to flood schools with more mental health professionals, not more armed guards. We need to know the signs to spot future school shooters. We need to break down the social isolation that causes loneliness and anger, which is much more likely to end in teen suicide.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS Show Choir performing with Shawn Mendes & Khalid at the Billboard Music Awards 2018. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Listen to our youth. When a student from Santa Fe High School says, “I’ve always kind of felt eventually it was going to happen here,” we need to change that feeling of inevitability. Children cannot focus on their future if all they think about is when — not if — they will be staring down the barrel of an AR-15. We need to listen to them. And, as adults, we need to reform our laws so we can really say #NeverAgain to the next school shooting.

I have seen the positive changes since Sandy Hook from organizations like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. I can feel the tide turning now that we’ve added millions more voices with Students Demand Action.

It is time for the next generation to stop huddling in darkened classrooms and step out into the light. It’s time to show our country a better way to live.