For Today’s U.S. Teens, School Shootings Are Common

25 February, 2018

The young people who experienced the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, were born in or after 1999. In that year, two students killed 13 classmates at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Since then, the United States has had six more of the 10 deadliest school shootings in its history.

A family visits the memorial crosses dedicated to the students killed in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting attack
A family visits the memorial crosses dedicated to the students killed in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting attack

Along with those events, there have been smaller, less publicized acts of gun violence on campuses. The Washington Post newspaper found that, since 1999, more than 150,000 children have experienced a shooting at their school. The Post reporters note that those numbers are conservative. They do not include suicides or accidents with guns that happen at school, or shootings that happen after classes have ended.

In other words, today's high school students have been raised at a time when school shootings in the U.S. have become common.

The cumulative effect of this gun-related school violence may help explain the recent protests by young people. Since the school shooting in Florida February 14, Parkland students and other American teenagers have been publicly calling for stronger U.S. gun laws. These activists have held demonstrations and gone on day strikes from school. They have spoken on television, posted on social media, and met directly with President Trump and other officials.

Last Wednesday, hundreds of high school-age students gathered outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Juliet Cable was one of them.

She said, "I think that this current fight for gun control is a fight that students and teenagers and children are having to fight. We're the ones who need to stand up and call attention to it and change it."

America's teenagers

Other mass shootings in recent U.S. history have inspired calls for increased gun control measures. But the way many Parkland teenagers are answering this month's violence in Florida is different, say gun-control activists.

Kristin Brown is the co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

"We've certainly seen a groundswell of anger rise up following mass shootings in the past, but nothing like this in terms of the momentum or youth engagement," Brown said.

The young people's efforts are consistent with what researchers have been learning about today's teenagers.

After the 2016 presidential election, the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research asked 790 American teenagers questions about their political views.

The researchers learned that, in general, U.S. teenagers are worried about the country's future, and they believe Americans do not agree about basic values.

Amanda Lenhart was the senior research scientist at AP-NORC at the time of the study. She told VOA that the teenagers in the study sounded tired – even exhausted – of the country's political conflict. They expressed "deep weariness of the divided status quo," Lenhart said.

At the same time, Lenhart said, teenagers hoped things could get better. A majority had taken action on a political issue they cared about. Teenagers who used social media were especially politically engaged.

Today's teenagers have, in her words, a "youthful energy that inspires them to act," Lenhart said. They want the future to be better, she said, so they are going to stand up and make it better.

Fifteen-year-old Sofia Hidalgo, an activist from Maryland, echoed that idea in a conversation with VOA.

"We got our voices out there in big publications so that people could see change, and there is going to be a change in mentality. And we are going to succeed in combating hate and fear with love and peace."

Generation gun?

Abby Kiesa is with the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

She noted in an email to VOA that many of today's teenagers are insisting on being heard. At the same time, she said, "We must continue to broaden and diversify the youth who have the encouragement and access to tell their stories."

Research scientist Amanda Lenhart made a similar point. Today's teenagers are among the most racially and ethnically diverse groups in U.S. history. Trying to talk about a "generation" often hides important differences among people, she said.

But, Lenhart said, part of what forms the idea of a generation is "living through big moments at the same time at a very similar life stage."

For today's teenagers, the big moments that come to define their generation may be their shared experience as students at a time when schools can be scenes of violence.

As Parkland student Jaclyn Corin told the New Yorker magazine, "We have grown up with this problem."

I'm Caty Weaver.

And I'm Ashley Thompson.

Kelly Jean Kelly reported this story for VOA News. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

campus - n. the area and buildings around the school

cumulative - adj. increasing or becoming better or worse over time

inspire - v. to make or cause someone to do something

groundswell - n. a fast increase in public support of something

momentum - n. the strength or force that allows something to continue or to grow stronger or faster as time passes

exhausted - adj. completely worn out or tired

weariness - n. reluctance to see or experience more of something

engaged - adj. busy with activity

diversify - v. to change (something) so that it has more different kinds of people or things

encouragement - n. something that makes someone more likely to do something

access - n. a way of getting near, at, or to something or someone

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