Fear of Violence and Fear of Growing Up Impact Youth

Fear of Violence and Fear of Operating a Motor Vehicle Impact Youth

Social media contagion exasperates the fear of violence. Three years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, teen death by firearm replaced traffic deaths as the number one killer of teens.[1] Fear of violence at school appears to increase anxiety. Suicide had consistently been the number two cause of death among teens,[2] second only to traffic deaths.[3] Medical researchers Jason Goldstick, Rebecca Cunningham, and Patrick Center at the University of Michigan co-published an article for The New England Journal of Medicine that disrupted the classifications for a decades-long pattern of death among children.[4] By re-examining the longstanding categories associated with ways teenagers most commonly perish, the study offers a new paradigm by which to gauge teen death rates and means. A more holistic way to glean the data shows how, for people aged 1-19, death by firearm has replaced traffic accidents as the leading cause of death.

During my weekly meetings with teenagers, I asked if school shootings caused them to worry or be concerned more now than last year. All 12 of them said it does. Fear of potential violence is a real mental health issue for students. The immediacy with which horrible news reaches people through social media is like a slap in the face. It catches us off-guard. The ferocity of inundation can be paralyzing for young and old alike. With every report of a mass shooting, we all cringe and suffer fear and frustration.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens with firearms being the preferred means. Firearm-related death among youth increased by 29 percent from 2019 to 2020, and death resulting from a firearm is the number one killer of teens overall.[5] There is uncertainty as to why the pendulum has swung so profoundly but the evidence provided exposes the need for a missional approach that involves an ongoing practice of physical presence in the lives of youth.

Due to anxiety, fewer teens are driving. A study published in The Atlantic, by Julie Beck from the University of Michigan, revealed an unprecedented decrease among teens seeking their driver’s licenses.[6] A rite of passage eagerly sought by previous generations is no longer compelling for many young people. The youth culture is not static. The CDC proposes that youth traffic fatalities are decreasing due to education, wearing of seat belts, and safer automobiles.[7] This may play a role, but the traffic death numbers would likely decline with significantly fewer teen drivers on the road. Many teens are too anxious to get behind the wheel of a car. Three 18-year-old men have told me they do not want to drive due to anxiety about what may happen to them or to others. A rapid cultural transformation is occurring among adolescents.

[1] Jason E. Goldstick, Ph.D., Rebecca M. Cunningham, M.D., Patrick M. Carter, M.D., “Current Causes of Death in Children and Adolescents in the United States” in The New England Journal of Medicine, May 19, 2022. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2201761. (accessed on 10/3/2022).

[2] The Center for Disease Control lists suicide as the number two leading cause of death for people in three separate age groups (10-14; 15-24; 25-34) https://webappa.cdc.gov/cgi-bin/broker.exe (accessed 10/4/22).

[3] Centers for Disease Control, “Transportation Safety” Get the Facts 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fmotorvehiclesafety%2Fteen_drivers%2Fteendrivers_factsheet.html (accessed on 10/4/2022).

[4] Jason E. Goldstick, Ph.D., Rebecca M. Cunningham, M.D., Patrick M. Carter, M.D., “Current Causes of Death in Children and Adolescents in the United States (accessed 10/3/2022).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Julie Beck, “The Decline of the Driver's License,” in the Atlantic. Beck notes: “It’s especially pronounced for the teens—in 2014, just 24.5 percent of 16-year-olds had a license, a 47-percent decrease from 1983, when 46.2 percent had a license. And at the tail end of the teen years, 69 percent of 19-year-olds had licenses in 2014, compared to 87.3 percent in 1983, a 21-percent decrease.” https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/01/the-decline-of-the-drivers-license/425169/?utm_source=copy-link&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=share (accessed 10/3/2022).

[7] Centers for Disease Control, “Positive Trends Summary,” Https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/sspw/pdf/YRBS_2019_Summary_Report_DPI_Web_Version.pdf, 22. (Accessed 10/4/2022).

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