Cellphones contribute to school shootings

Published 6:25 am Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Advocate-Messenger

Around 40 people have been shot and killed at schools and colleges this year, including two at Marshall County High School in Kentucky. As school shootings become more and more common — almost routine, at this point — everyone is looking for who or what to blame.

One flawed answer is to blame the people who pulled the triggers. While it’s accurate to say that the shooters are the ones guilty of the murders, that obvious statement does nothing to resolve the much larger issue of why so many more people are choosing to pull the trigger in the first place.

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Another flawed answer is to blame the existence of the guns used in the shootings. Once again, it’s accurate to say if those guns hadn’t been available, they couldn’t have been used. But this answer also ignores the “why did they do it?”question.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin found a different thing to blame on Tuesday, during a roundtable discussion organized by the Federal Commission on School Safety: cellphones.

While that may sound a little weird at first blush, Bevin’s insightful comments actually highlighted an enormous problem that is normally ignored.

While holding a cellphone, Bevin said, “This is a very, very, very dangerous tool in the hands of young people, and I don’t say that lightly or flippantly,” according to reporting in the Louisville Courier Journal.

Bevin blamed overuse of cellphones for disorders in children that lead to the need for “psychotropic drugs,” which can often come with dangerous side effects including suicidal thoughts.

“As a nation, we want so quickly to find some solution … but culturally, we are feeding this epidemic,” Bevin was quoted in the Courier Journal.

The problems with cellphones are even more numerous than those outlined by Bevin this week. Children and adults of all ages now spend majorities of their time each day with screens in front of their faces. Our entire culture is becoming more and more defined by social media.

As a result, people are less connected to reality and less connected with each other. Actual social interaction is disappearing as the social internet expands. People’s ability to function well in the real world is diminishing as they get less and less practice.

We have a generation growing up now with lives that are mostly defined by technology. They live in an online world that simultaneously makes them numb and coaches them to be over-the-top to get likes and shares.

Kids have less grip on reality and a constant flow of unfiltered, often rage-inducing content overflowing their brains. Adults are not only in the same trap, they’re setting the example that it’s OK to be plugged in 24/7. It’s not surprising, then, that kids are turning to extreme behaviors, including school shootings.

Bevin hit the nail on the head with his comments about cellphones. But just like with the other “simple” answers to school shootings, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking cellphones are the one and only problem.

Cellphones are one of several areas where we should be doing research and coming up with evidence-based solutions.

We should also be researching gun violence and how to make guns safer. We haven’t had good research in this area for decades, thanks to moves in the mid-90’s by Congress that effectively ended funding for scientific studies on guns.

And we should be researching mental health, which was a focus at the Tuesday roundtable when Bevin made his comments.

The common theme in all of these areas is that we don’t know enough.

Too many people are caught up in playing the blame game with oversimplified answers that will never work. If we actually want to reduce school shootings, we need to do the hard work of searching for real answers.

It’s going to take time. It’s going to take substantial financial resources. It’s going to result in answers that challenge everyone’s preconceived notions. But it’s the only way to fix the problem.