Parents’ and Children’s Concern About Mass Shootings
Mass shootings have been a public health crisis for many years, increasing in frequency steadily since 1966. These events are defined as shootings that occur in a short time span (minutes to hours), in a public space, and include four or more victims. The increase in mass shootings over the last several decades has prompted preparatory actions such as implementing active shooter drills and emphasizing the importance of situational awareness for youth. However, 60.2% of youth report that the active shooter drills made them feel scared and hopeless.
U.S. youth report worrying about shootings occurring in the places they frequent, and this worry is linked to higher rates of anxiety. Recently, Chicago schools have struggled with an increase in after-school shootings with nine children killed within the past year. Since 2018, there have been 157 school shootings reported in the U.S. The collective mental health trauma after mass shooting tragedies, and youth fears about mass shootings, are critical issues for youth health and well-being, particularly in the context of the ongoing youth mental health crisis.
In this month’s Voices of Child Health in Chicago Report, we provide insight on parent and child fears regarding mass shootings in Chicago. We asked over 1,000 Chicago parents from all 77 community areas in the city about their own and their children’s concern about mass shootings at schools and other public places.
- Two-thirds of Chicago parents are worried about shootings at their children’s schools and three in four parents are worried about shootings at another public place.
- A lower proportion of children were worried about shootings, but even among children with relatively lower levels of concern, concern about mass shootings in schools was associated with lower wellbeing and higher stress.
- Children’s worry about school shootings differed by age, race/ethnicity, and city region.
Chicago parents’ and children’s concern about school shootings
We asked parents how worried they and their children were about the possibility of a shooting at their child’s school or daycare. Two out of three parents reported that they were worried about this (36% were very worried, 31% were somewhat worried, Figure 1). This is similar to levels of worry reported by parents in national polls, in which 68% of parents noted they were at least somewhat worried that a shooting could occur in their child’s school environment.
In our survey, parents reported lower levels of worry for their children, with 19% saying their children were very worried and 21% somewhat worried (Figure 1). Other research that directly asked U.S. adolescents about their own levels of worry found a higher proportion of adolescents (57%) were worried a shooting could happen at their school, which may suggest that parents in our survey underestimated the level of worry their children experience about school shootings.
We explored how the level of youth concern about school shootings was associated with youth scores on measures of well-being and stress. Youth who were worried about shootings at their school had lower well-being scores and higher stress scores, and this was even true for youth who were “not too worried,” compared with youth who were “not at all worried” (Figure 2). In other words, for youth in Chicago, any level of fear about school shootings was connected to lower well-being and heightened stress.
Concerns about mass shootings in other public places
We also asked parents about their concern regarding shootings in a public place that is not daycare or school. Nearly three in four parents reported being worried about this (38% very, 35% somewhat). And parents reported that 19% of children were very worried, 24% somewhat worried (Figure 1).
Differences in worry by demographics
Parent and child concern also differed by race/ethnicity and by city region. For instance, over half of Latinx parents said their children were worried about shootings in schools (32% very worried, 23% somewhat worried), followed by Asian/other-race parents (19% very worried, 27% somewhat worried), Black parents (20% very worried, 20% somewhat worried), and White parents (10% very worried, 18% somewhat worried). Additionally, parents from the Central and Southwest city regions were most likely to say their children were worried about school shootings, whereas parents from North and Northwest regions were least likely to say their children were worried (Figure 3). Parents also reported that children who were 11 years old or older were most likely to be worried (22% very worried, 25% somewhat worried) about a shooting at school or daycare, compared with children aged 0–5 years old (18% very worried, 8% somewhat worried).
First, keeping firearms safely out of young hands, and stored properly, is crucial. Gun-safe storage tips include storing them locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition.
- Safe storage toolkit from Strengthening Chicago Youth: https://scy-chicago.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/GunSafety-Toolkit-FINAL.pdf
- Safety information from the American Academy of Pediatrics: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/athome/Pages/Handguns-in-the-Home.aspx
- Tips for asking about firearms in the home: https://www.bradyunited.org/program/end-family-fire/asking-saves-kids
If you or your child are in distress and are seeking mental health resources, the following can be reached out to:
- https://www.namichicago.org or 833.626.4244
- www.crisistextline.org or text HOME to 741741
- https://988lifeline.org or dial 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline