model-2339867_1920Shooting drills are now part of most public schools. Similar to when, as children, we practiced tornado drills, these exercises have become routine. Some public school students have been participating in these drills since their grade school years. Often the drills are unannounced so students can practice how to handle a lockdown in case of a real school shooting. But are these drills causing unintended consequences for many students?

Recently, we had to practice one of these shooting drills in our work place. The difference was, we knew it was a drill and, we were adults. Still, it was unsettling:  the “pretend” shooters entered the building during a time set aside for the drill. Then, as we heard the blanks shots, we had to practice what we had learned in a seminar. As I hid under my desk, it felt surreal and honestly a bit anxiety producing. I actually called my husband and children when the drill was on. At the end of the drill we learned that several people had been “pretend” shot. Knowing the drill wasn’t real didn’t prevent anxiety.

Now imagine if you are a public school student and the drills come unannounced. While we parents may feel better that our children are being trained, are there hidden consequences for our children in terms of their emotions and psychological well-being? I’m not advocating to avoid the drills; rather, that we should be aware of the risk-benefits of such training.

Several teens have said the drills create anxiety and worry. Some compose notes to parents on their phones, find themselves shaking and have anxiety attacks. This is all normal given the situation.

In fact, the National Association of School Psychologists acknowledges that these lockdown drills can produce symptoms of anxiety, trauma and stress in some students and staff. The flight-or-flight response associated with anxiety kicks into gear even in practice situations. And for those students already struggling with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideations, drills can increase those symptoms. Thus, a better strategy is to announce the drill as a planned activity versus a real emergency.

Granted the purpose of the drill is to help students think through a safety plan and feel more in control in dangerous out-of-control situations. But if students begin to think more about when this happens versus if this happens, it can lead to even more anxiety, nightmares and worry for some. The training, in fact, creates a heightened sense of risk.

Clearly some students experience negative psychological effects from a drill that is supposed to help not harm. Preparations of this type are not  neutral. Mental health is tied to a sense of safety and security and unfortunately, that sense of safety is lost. The reality of a dangerous world is now front and center.


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