ACEs and active shooter drills

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What is an ACE ? An ACE is a adverse childhood experience. These experiences can cause stress and trauma in children. Examples include physical, sexual or emotional abuse; having a incarcerated parent; having a parent with mental illness, alcohol abuse, or substance abuse issues; or witnessing domestic or community violence. The more ACEs a child accumulates the worst their health outcome such as increased rates of obesity, asthma, and mental illness and substance use. Many children, in both rich and poor communities face ACEs. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris has spoken about ACEs in a TED talk and in her new book.


School shootings have become sadly too common. One response is widespread active shooter drills with students, even young students, participating. Children are taught to hide under desks, barricade themselves, or fight back by throwing books and backpacks. Perhaps for some older students drills are helpful but I fear for most they are harmful. Students with ACEs may get triggered and re-traumatized by these drills. I have seen children in my office with deep and lasting anxiety as a result of being in these drills.

I am all for preparing and planning. But I would prefer drills occur with just teachers, administration, and first responders and not students. Students could be informed that teachers and staff have a plan in place to keep them safe and then let them be children - not role-players in a trauma scenario.


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