Traumatic Events in the News & Our Collective Apathy

Paramedics moving personI didn’t cry when I saw the panic stricken families of the 69 children shot dead on Utoya Island in Norway last weekend. I didn’t linger longer than usual when they showed the bombing in the center of Oslo that killed 8 people. The sight of shattered windows and blown up cars provided no shock and awe to me. My attention was only momentarily captured when a Virginia Tech student killed 32 students before taking his life in the spring of 2007. And in March of 2005, when a student in Red Lake, Minnesota, killed his grandparents, several classmates then himself, it hardly distracted me from my daily responsibilities of raising two children.

But Columbine was different. On April 20, 1999, when two teens wearing long trench coats carried out their plot to kill their classmates and teachers, I was mesmerized. I had been camping all day and returned home late in the afternoon to find the television plastered with images of the horrific scene on every network. I ushered my very young children into another room and spent hours watching the drama unfold. It was just one year earlier when I had been blindsided by similar events. A 15 year old boy had shot 24 people at his high school in Springfield, Oregon after he had killed both of his parents. And Jonesboro, Arkansas was still a media hotspot because of that city’s own similar tragedy just two months before Springfield. As a matter of fact, the five or six years following the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, a trauma that grabbed the attention and hearts of the nation, seemed to be riddled with unspeakable violence, finally culminating in the 9/11 attacks.

But something has happened to our nation since those days. We have developed a collective apathy. We no longer shed tears for the dead, like I did when I saw a firefighter carrying a wounded toddler out of the rubble of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. We seem to be more enraged about who just got voted off American Idol than we are by a video of panic stricken dying teens. My own kids, who do not even remember half of those gripping events, are exposed to violence, death and victimization on video games, cartoons and every internet outlet available. Heck, they have become experts at indifference because they can access callousness from any location via their smartphones and iPads. I know that as a parent, it is my job to teach them empathy. I know that regardless of what they learn on Family Guy or YouTube, that it is my responsibility to monitor the flow of information into our home and their lives. But let’s be real, this is now, not then. I have a hard enough time keeping my own inbox clean and text messages current. I, like many parents, can hardly police every second of my children’s lives too.

And yet, we wonder why bullying is on the rise. We recoil in self-righteousness when our neighbor’s son gets arrested for bringing a weapon to school, while our own teen is killing people on his Xbox with a stranger in another state. We watch shows like Law & Order, but are disturbed when we hear our kids toss the word ‘rape’ around. Maybe it bothers me because I want my children to be sympathetic, empathetic, feeling, compassionate human beings. I don’t want them plagued with worry over the pain and suffering that exists in our world. But I want them to at least flinch when they see a despicable act.

I want my children to be motivated to act as I was when I poured my heart out to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. My words flowed faster than my tears in that anonymous letter. I know we live in a faster, different and much more violent world today. But I truly believe that no matter how small our computers get, our hearts are still incredibly big. I want my kids to know that it is okay to be moved by tragedy. I want them to tear up when they hear of a whole city being wiped out by a tornado. I want them to pack up the toys they no longer use to send to the homeless victims of the tsunami. But at this point, I would be happy if they felt anything at all, other than their cell phones vibrating.

© Copyright 2011 by Jen Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Charlie Sy.

    August 1st, 2011 at 7:47 PM

    truly it is scarey that in todays society children are allowed to play realistic video games that desensitize them to death. they are allowed to watch movies that have death and violence strewn throughout them. even the media does its best to desensitize us to what is going on in the world. in a lot of respects the issue is not just the children but we adults as well. as you said we see so much suffering on TV and movies that it is commonplace. but what i see at work are individuals who still care about other individuals.

  • amy

    August 2nd, 2011 at 3:05 AM

    very very well said,’s almost as if you read the minds of a whole bunch of parents put there and just put it on paper in a great way.I have felt many of the things you have spoken of here.all the violence and references to drugs,alcohol and obscenity in the media all around us concerns me and the parents should really teach their children about the human aspect of things and not let them become mechanical robots.

  • James

    August 2nd, 2011 at 4:29 AM

    Have we all become so numb to the ills of society that when we see these things most of us do not even have an emotional response to it anymore?
    I am saddened to hear that for menay people this is very true.
    When all you hear is bad I guess in some ways you do kind of get numb to it and then really in a sense stop caring or at the very least stop thinking that there is anything that you can do that will make a positive impact.

  • Douglas

    August 2nd, 2011 at 12:03 PM

    We’ve just grown careless about others,all of us humans…If someone’s in trouble then let them be.The person’s probably sitting with glee because it was not him who got into the trouble. Also, sometimes people care for their family members.But it would be bad to not take care of this.

    We are growing stone-hearted :|

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