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Gun violence poses a serious threat to U.S. teens and their communities. Many young people are surrounded by constant reminders of that threat– from hearing the pop-pop-pop of gunshots at night to losing friends and family members to shootings.
Being exposed to gun violence can have a deep impact on kids, including aggression, insomnia, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Some researchers say that schools should do more to proactively equip young people with ways to cope, especially in neighborhoods with high rates of violence.
Youth Radio’s Maya Escobar is familiar with the kind of fear that a shooting can instill. When she was eight years old and asleep in the top bunk of her bed, a bullet came smashing through her window. The experience changed the way she saw the world, making her more aware — and fearful — of the threat of gun violence in her community.
“I stopped playing outside like I used to,” she says. “I started paying attention to the noises outside my house and wherever I went. I listened for any angry voices or people yelling at each other, because arguments can escalate quickly into violence.”
Maya says balancing fear and awareness of gun violence is difficult, but she does her best to educate her little sisters.
“At home, instead of doing fire drills, I had my little sisters practice what to do if there was another shooting,” she says. “I told them to find a place to hide, like under a bed.”
Maya’s story is a reminder that gun violence doesn’t only affect direct victims and perpetrators. Bystanders, loved ones, and friends who witness shootings–even when no one gets physically hurt–can carry that experience with them, and can benefit from programs designed to help young people feel, and actually be, safe in their homes and communities.
How does gun violence affect you and your community? How can young people help to reduce the threat of gun violence? How should we educate kids about the possibility of gun violence without causing them to live in fear?
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VIDEO: Bullet In The Bedroom (Youth Radio)
“The world of Youth Radio reporter Maya Escobar has been shaped by something commonplace to families like hers in Oakland — gunshots.” In this animated video, Maya explores a traumatic event in her childhood, and how she overcomes the fear that remains.
AUDIO: Piece of Mind (KQED/Youth Radio)
Growing up, Youth Radio reporter Jahlil Jackson says he felt a lot of pressure to carry a gun. But he resisted the temptation by asking himself what’s at stake. “My friends ask me things like, ‘Why don’t you tote? You too scared to get a hammer?’” he says, “and quite frankly the answer is yes. I’m scared of losing my freedom. I’m scared of the effect the gun could have on my personality. And I’m scared of the thought of ending a person’s life.”
AUDIO: Here’s The Drill: Inside A School Lockdown (NPR/Youth Radio)
School lockdowns are designed to keep kids safe. By practicing for events like a school shooting, teachers and students should, in theory, be calmer and more prepared for an emergency. And yet lockdowns are also constant reminders that we live in a potentially dangerous world. First grade teacher Julia Gelormino, whose school regularly holds practice lockdowns, says that since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the drills have meant some really hard conversations with her first graders. “One my kids asked, what would happen if they shot through the door?” she said.
AUDIO: Castlemont High: One School’s Struggle With Daily Violence (NPR/Youth Radio)
At Castlemont High School, located in east Oakland, California, a group of teenagers is actively trying to prevent gun violence while simultaneously grappling with the frequent shootings in the neighborhood. “If I can wake up one day, walk outside with the possibility of getting shot at any point and time, that’s kind of nerve racking every day to do,” says 14-year-old Trevor Watson, one of the youngest members of the group.