Whenever there are incidents of shootouts in schools and colleges, the entire focus of the media is either on the perpetrator(s) or on the people who have become their victims. Close-ups of the bully or the psychopath and the innocent victims are shown nauseatingly incessantly on the television with their life stories discussed threadbare, and over-zealous reporters scoop memorabilia out of dusty cupboards and tear old photos out from old family albums to pose before the camera. The parents and the other relatives become the focus of national and international attention for that brief while. After a few days, there is yet another incident involving something else, and this particular event is all but forgotten.
In the flashes of the cameras and the stark photos of the bullying / victimizing / violent events, however, are the hazy images in the background of the scores of other people who are witness to these events. If the event happened in a school / college setting, then invariably a majority of this crowd comprises young kids with impressionable minds. While all the excited attention is riveted on the "main actors" of the drama, these fillers in the background always get ignored. Which is a pity. For, very few appear to have bothered about what the sound of the gunshot or the sight of the assault or the frenzy of the chase or the stab of the knife or the sight of the blood spilled out on the road would be doing to the psyche of those who stood by while the drama was being enacted. I know of counselors working on the perpetrators; I have seen counseling sessions going on for the victims and their parents; but I have so far not come across or read about any case of institutionalized counseling being conducted for the witnesses, though academic research has been undertaken on this issue.
And then what happens when these kids report their firsthand experience to their peers who were not present on the scene but are curious nevertheless, and who while recounting what they saw, add some more gory details generated from a creative mind that has become even more hyperactive in such abnormal circumstances? A spiral chain is set in motion as fear hops from one vulnerable mind to another.
Let's not leave out the "less fearful instances" such as verbal insults, verbal threats, the younger students being shoved and pushed around by older and / or stouter students, group / gang conflicts, extortion, sexual assault - have I put them all down, is there anything left out? - and we become pretty sure that the kid is not carrying home with them only the knowledge the teacher imparted on the blackboard of the classroom - it's a lot more, besides.
Despite the imposing facade of the school's buildings and the soothing morning prayers and the charming talk given by the counselors, a sense of insecurity begins overtaking the mind. Attrition, absenteeism, and under-performance are perhaps just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The impact goes deeper than that. Depending on the combination of DNA and childhood environment that has nurtured the mind, the individual copes in different ways. They either externalize their behavior - become aggressive or truant or rebellious, or they internalize their experience - withdraw into a shell, become submissive, anxious or depressed. As they grow up and enter the adult world, coping becomes even more difficult if the right counseling has not been undertaken at the right time. The struggle-to-cope may manifest in the form of a messed-up career or a messed-up family or social life. And the spiral continues to the next generation.
As parents, therefore, it becomes our responsibility to ensure that if at all our kids have witnessed any violence, victimization or bullying in the community or in the school, we give them the right counseling that nullifies whatever negative impact the incidents might threaten to have on them. After all, as this article observes - children are like sponge, and they absorb whatever comes their way, good or bad.