SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Having conversations with children about false active shooter threats and the real school shootings that happen every year can be tough.
Six Bay Area schools and thousands of students were affected by Wednesday’s false active shooter threats. Despite Wednesday’s reports of active school shootings turning up to be false, even a hoax can be harmful to students’ mental health, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook.
“You don’t know at the time that it’s false and your body responds directly with your reptile brain. So, fight, flight, freeze or fawn,” said Cook. She works with children of all ages and their parents.
After school shootings in places like Sandy Hook, Parkland, Uvalde and even Oakland, she’s noticed a shift in the anxiety of her young patients worried for their own safety. “In not only how children and parent relate when it comes to school and shootings, but also children going to school they know why police are there they know why schools have metal detectors,” said Cook.
It’s a tough topic to tackle for parents, but Dr. Cook said it is necessary to find a way to talk about school shootings, both real and the hoaxes. Recognizing what’s age appropriate and what children will understand about the seriousness of an active shooter is important.
“A kindergartener is not really going to understand anything on a level that a senior will, so you could just say to them we have to do drills to be safe just like we tornado drills and fire drills. We also now do drills in case somebody comes into the school,” added Dr. Cook. There’s a difference between being prepared and being worried.
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This week the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced a recommendation that children ages 8 to 18 be screened for anxiety. Dr. Cook said parents can look for changes in behavior with their children to see if they’re struggling with their mental health.
“If your child is sleeping more or sleeping less, if your child is all of a sudden eating more or eating less. If you’ve noticed they aren’t really taking care of themselves like they used to these are signs that something is going on,” said Dr. Cook.
Local and national news is important, but Dr. Cook said children don’t need to hear all the facts. She wants parents to make sure they are screening the information children take in when it comes to reports on school shootings and hoaxes.