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Violence and Trauma: Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Once again we are confronted by the awful news of violence, this time at Virginia Tech. A young, male gunman came onto campus and proceeded to shoot and kill twenty two or more people including himself. Once again, we all wonder why this type of thing happens. As I think about this latest tragedy, I cannot help but ask how all of these repeated stories of violence and terrorism, here in the United States, in Iraq and around the world, impact on all of us?

We live in the electronic age of instant communication. There are no longer any truly remote parts of the world. The result is that we instantly hear news about happenings in China, Mongolia, Africa and everywhere. In addition, our electronic world contains video games that are so real that the players feel as though they are on the real battle field or on a real police department chasing the enemy or criminals or the foe of any type. The figures in these games appear quite real as they shoot and are shot to death. This scenario is repeated on the Internet, in the movies and on television sets. Communication is instant through our Cell Phones, Blackberries, Portable and Wireless Computers and Internet, and etcetera.

How does all of this affect us and our children?

Edward Hallowell, MD and specialist in ADHD states that he believes these sound bites and and electronic stimulation have lead to an increase in ADHD (Delivered from Distraction, 2005, Chapter 18). He points out that these electronic devices provided to our children makes it increasingly difficult for them to tolerate frustration. We live in an age of instant gratification that inhibits the ability of children to use imagination and creativity. If I can take the liberty of translating: "If a picture is worth a thousand words," are we not better off with the thousand words?

The result of all of this, it seems to me, is that we are:

1) Less prepared to cope with life and the frustrations that life often brings because of instant gratification and

2) Repeatedly traumatized by the steadily incoming information about violence.

In other words, are we not being "driven crazy" by all of this: the electronic age, the age of instant gratification, the graphic images of battles, shootings, and other crimes that are presented to our psyches on a daily basis? I believe the answers to this question are YES. That is part of the reason I urge my anxious and depressed patients to avoid newspapers and television news, in addition to avoiding shows with crime and violence.

It is difficult to imagine the type of despair that drove the shooter at Virginia Tech to commit such a shocking and murderous act. What the rest of us need to learn is how to protect ourselves from this steady diet of horror. If we do not protect ourselves the consequences could be either: 1) we will be afraid to leave our homes out of paralyzing phobia or 2) we will become numb to the loss of human life. We need to protect ourselves and, even more; we need to protect our children in order that they do learn to tolerate frustrations while stimulating the use of their imaginations.

What are your opinions?

 

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