With three children about to spend the next 21 days in juvenile detention after deputies say they planned to set their Fort Myers school on fire, experts say psychological stress from the pandemic and the pressures of social media have contributed to the recent instances of Southwest Florida students planning violence at their schools.
The arrest report shows the three 11-year-old girls planned for the whole second floor of Six Mile Charter Academy to burn so that the “rude people” would die in the fire. Meanwhile, a 14-year-old and 13-year-old face charges for plotting a Columbine-style shooting at Harns Marsh Middle School, and a 12-year-old girl has confessed to posting a threat on social media aimed at Oakridge Middle School, though she says she didn’t plan to carry it out.
Dr. Alise Bartley, the director of counseling at Florida Gulf Coast University says we are seeing more unusual cases of aggression and violence in young kids because they have never been under more psychological stress than they are right now, between the pressures of social media and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t know about you, but most of us are pretty tired of COVID[-19], this really increasing amount of pressure that we’re under,” Bartley said. “Because of that, kids are going to find a way to try to get their power back. And, unfortunately, some kids are doing this in a way that is very destructive and harmful to others.”
Children deal with peer group pressures at school and then find no relief from those often judgmental dynamics on social media. Over the last year or so, they have spent more time at home and more time on the internet because of the COVID-19 pandemic, immersing them even more in an online ecosystem that can prove toxic to their mental health.
“They’re not just dealing with the normal developmental pressures of interacting with children and their peers in a setting like at school… now we have social media, which has made it incredibly complex,” Bartley said. “And then let’s go ahead and throw in a little COVID[-19].”
Bartley says while it’s a good thing that people have been seeking out more mental health counseling during the pandemic, it has led to a shortage in the professionals that can see and treat them. FGCU’s Department of Counseling, for example, is mostly booked for the next few months.