Don't be afraid to talk to your kids about Colorado killings

July 20, 2012 By Amanda Gardner, HealthDay Reporter
Don't be afraid to talk to your kids about colorado killings
Mental health experts say children and teens need reassurance at times like this.

(HealthDay) -- As word spread Friday that a heavily armed man had shot up a suburban Denver movie theater crowded with families and children for a midnight showing of the new Batman movie, mental health experts offered guidance on how to cope with the tragedy.

While this latest act of carnage unnerved a nation still scarred by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, psychologists said children and teens may be especially vulnerable to the early Friday shootings in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 people dead and at least 50 others wounded.

"It would be perfectly normal for people to be more on edge right now," said Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. "It's a natural reaction when you hear about, experience or witness a traumatic event. You're primed to be more vigilant about what's happening to you."

But parents can do much to reassure their children that such an incident isn't likely to repeat itself anytime soon, experts said. And it's important to offer that reassurance now.

"This is clearly a very disturbed individual [the 24-year-old shooting suspect] and parents have to reassure kids that this is a very random event and they shouldn't bring their lives to a halt because of this," said Alan Hilfer, director of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. "Parents have to reassure kids that they're going to do everything they can to make sure they're safe."

A good place to start is by communicating, Rego said.

"Make sure you're having a talk," he advised. "Make sure a support system is there so if people are looking anxious or stressed out, encourage them to talk about what they're experiencing or feeling."

Echoing Hilfer, Rego said, "The second thing to do is recognize that there are these events that, unfortunately, happen in our lives that are traumatic and unpredictable and we also have to be able to go on with our lives."

A bigger question is how this latest incident will affect the psyche of a generation of young Americans already exposed to extremely high levels of violence.

The list includes two shocking school shootings. The first: April 16, 2007, when a gunman killed 23 people and then himself on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va. The second: April 20, 1999, when two students opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., not far from the site of Friday's tragedy, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before killing themselves.

And, of course, the horror of 9/11, when terrorists hijacked jets and crashed them into the Twin Towers of Manhattan's World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people.

A New York Times review of The Dark Knight Rises noted that the film includes "the explosions, the dust, the panic and the sweeping aerial shots of a very real-looking New York City -- [that] invokes the September 11 attacks."

The new Batman movie opened around the world Friday with midnight showings in the United States.

The Colorado shootings prompted officials to cancel the Paris premiere, with workers removing the red carpet display at a theater on the Champs-Elysees Avenue, the Associated Press reported.

NBC New York reported that the New York City Police Department was increasing security at city theaters showing the movie. "As a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort levels among movie patrons in the wake of the horrendous shooting in Colorado, the New York City Police Department is providing coverage at theaters where the 'The Dark Knight Rises' is playing in the five boroughs," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement.

It's unclear if the violent acts of the past 13 years are having a cumulative impact on young Americans.

Whatever the impact, the effect or effects are likely to be very individual, Rego said.

"People [can] develop an anxiety or apprehension about the things that go wrong for us. At the same time, people have tremendous resiliencies, too," he said. "We have different psychological and biological vulnerabilities in our reactions to these events."

The suspect in Friday's shootings was described as James Holmes, a 24-year-old former medical student. He had attended the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver until last month, a school spokeswoman said, adding that she didn't know why he withdrew from the school, the AP reported.

Wearing a gas mask, Holmes allegedly walked into a midnight showing of the Batman movie, unleashed a gas canister and then opened fire, making it one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history, the news service said.

As the gas started to spread, some patrons thought it was a stunt that was part of the movie. Then they saw a silhouette of a person in the smoke near the screen, first pointing a gun at the crowd and then shooting, the AP reported.

Authorities did not release a motive, and the FBI said there was no indication that the shooting was tied to a terrorist group.

Holmes reportedly had an assault rifle, a shotgun and two pistols, a federal law enforcement official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, the AP reported.

Explore further: Stray-bullet shootings often harm women, kids

More information: The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has more on anxiety in children and teens.


Related Stories

Stray-bullet shootings often harm women, kids

July 10, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Most people killed or wounded in stray-bullet shootings were unaware of events leading to the gunfire that caused their injuries, and nearly one-third of the victims were children and nearly half were ...

Stray-bullet shootings most often harm innocents

August 3, 2011
In the first nationwide study of stray-bullet shootings, Garen Wintemute, professor of emergency medicine and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center, quantifies ...

Recommended for you

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (14) Jul 20, 2012
And don't be afraid to talk to them about buses full of Israeli tourists being bombed in Bulgaria. Or norwegian kids being slaughtered on some remote island.

Hard to tell the difference between religion-exploited insanity, and normal every day insanity, is what you can tell them.
Noumenal
not rated yet Jul 23, 2012
Or you can at least tell them that the bloodless violence they see on the big screen means in reality. These films might be worse than a dream, if waking up to its reality, grim as it is, is such a taboo.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.