What Are Active-Shooter Drills Doing to Kids? The psychological effects of realistic simulations could be dangerous

There’s always at least one kid in tears, as they huddle under their desks in the dark. Still Beth Manias, an early-elementary literacy teacher outside of Seattle, tries to act upbeat and relaxed.

“I have them whisper about their favorite candy, dinner, books, movies—whatever, as a distraction,” Manias told me. She tells the kids they’re practicing to stay safe in case there’s ever a bear on campus. Though, she admits, “They always see through this. The older they get, the more savvy they become, probably because they are exposed to more of the news.”

At schools across the country, more children are taking part in mandatory “active-shooter drills.” Forgoing any pretense of a bear, sometimes a faculty member plays the role of a shooter, jiggling doorknobs as children practice keeping perfectly silent. Many parents, teachers, and students say that the experience is somewhere between upsetting and traumatizing.