Desensitized: Adolescents Numb to Mass Shootings

Angela McKinzie ‘21, Staff Writer

On April 20th, 1999, thirteen people–twelve students and one teacher–were murdered at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado at the hands of two gunmen. At the time, this shooting was seen as the most appalling, frightening shooting to take place in United States history. Since then, there have been over 200 mass school shootings on American soil, meaning hundreds of lives have been taken, hundreds of lives are forever changed, and hundreds of lives have been touched by grief and pain.

As defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, desensitized means, “to extinguish an emotional response (as of fear, anxiety, or guilt) to stimuli that formerly induced it.” As shootings have become more common, the phenomenon of desensitization to violence has become more present in younger generations. As a result, adolescents’ reactions to mass shootings have become those of insufficient empathy towards the situation as a whole: to the victims, to the survivors, and to the suspect of the crime.

The reason behind all of this? Mass shootings, and violence overall, have become commonplace in society. Jill Patel, journalist for The Triangle, states: “Crime has become so prevalent within our lives that the line has blurred between what affects us and what leaves us unphased. Desensitization occurs through repeated exposure which leads to a decreased emotional response to a negative catalyst.” Almost every day, the impressionable eyes of adolescents are being exposed to TV shows, movies, social media platforms, and video games that showcase bloodshed and brutalities repetitively. Through this early and constant exposure to violence, the mind fails to react with emotions that the event typically warrants such as fear or sadness or anger. Instead, young people are being programmed to accept that these devastating events are “normal” or that “this is just how the world is.”

This manner of thinking is detrimental to a functioning society because adolescents are the future. If youth are numbed to their natural emotions, they will lose sight of how to separate between what is morally acceptable and what is not. Additionally, this desensitization could hurt individuals by rendering them clueless as to how to respond in quick-reaction situations and could result in an aloof attitude towards all news in the world around them.

We cannot change the course of time and history to stop these events from happening, but we also cannot force ourselves into ignorance by shielding our minds from the media and news. However, we can change our reaction to these prevalent and heart-breaking issues through rewriting the narrative of how we respond to these events; instead of simply going on with our lives in a state of apathy, we need to stop, think and feel, even if it’s painful.