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How kids react to mass shootings

ALPENA, Mich. — It’s been one month since the Oxford school shooting shocked Michiganders. The event inspired copycat threats across the state and across the country. We spoke with a mental health expert to learn more about this phenomenon.

Dr. Rebecca Cowen is a counselor with nearly two decades of experience and multiple studies under her belt. She said that in the aftermath of a shooting, kids and teens might make threats of their own for a number of reasons.

Unfortunately, there’s no real way to know which are fake, and which are credible.

“Kids might make threats in order to disrupt the school day. They might think ‘hey, this is an easy way to get out of class today. Others might make threats because they think it’s funny or they’re under peer pressure. Finally, some kids make threats because they’re on the path to violence and plan on carrying out an attack.”

Dr. Cowan said up to 80% of school shooters tell somebody about their plan— whether as a social media post, an anonymous blog, or even as a verbal threat. That’s why schools and law enforcement take these things so seriously: they’re an effective warning sign. Threats also face steep penalties, and Cowan recommends parents talk to their kids about the reasons why.

“The more threats that are out there, the more school officials and law enforcement and have to sift through. So, we could easily miss a threat that is potentially credible. It’s important to have those conversations with your children about not making threats.”

Dr. Cowan also recommended talking to your kids after shootings in general. She said studies show young people can suffer a kind of second–hand trauma after these events, and need to know their feelings are okay.