Delaney Tarr, a 17-year-old survivor of the recent mass shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and one of the many of her classmates who have spearheaded the new movement against gun violence, gave an amazing speech at  Saturday’s “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington, DC.

Here’s a small portion indicating her passion and determination:

“We fight. We roar. We prepare our signs. We raise them high. We know what we want, we know how to get it and we are not waiting any more.” It’s a statement reflecting confidence in the power to change the world.”

But this publicly expressed political confidence is just part of the story — the portion that gets most of the attention, in fact too much. The narrow focus on her political activism is harmful to people like Delaney Tarr and to the movement she is part of.

Teenagers advocating for change predictably lose their focus in a short time, as any parent knows. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Generally people who are political activists feel a sense of empowerment that others don’t. Activists see a link between their situation and the broader political world. They believe that through political activism they can make a difference.

They have a strong sense of fate control.

It’s so tempting to take these sentiments of such smart, courageous, savvy children like Delaney Tarr at face value.

But it is unfair to them if you do. It ignores the profound long-term debilitating consequences that school-shooting survivors like Delaney Tarr face and that can dampen their political passion and limit their capacities.

Looking only at their activist side dehumanizes them with kindness and admiration.

Compare Tarr’s speech to the comments of Heather Martin, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine shooting:

“I can’t speak for all survivors,” she said, “But I did just want to move on and get back to normal. But you can’t. These are things that will impact you for the rest of your life and will affect you. … I think overall, people seem to misunderstand how long it takes.”

As strong as Delaney is and as important the movement is to her right now, students like her will face emotional obstacles that can deaden optimism, debilitate their sense of control and reduce survivors’ ability to deal with the outside world.

The survivors’ political activism is fresh and just beginning. Unfortunately so is the emotional turmoil along with its long-term impact.

So we need to give Delaney Marr and all the other like her a break here. It is one-sided and insensitive to think only about the political activist side and to wish away the troubles these students will have that can hamper their political optimism and activity.

Standing up and speaking out may in fact be therapeutic, but you need to consider the numbing, withdrawing, emotionally withering effect that violence has on people in these situations.

And there are many.

According to the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital Research Institute, “Regardless of whether a shooting occurs in a community with high crime and violence or in a community that is historically safe and stable, school shootings have lasting ramifications for each family and also impact relationships among community members including parents, the school, law enforcement and local government.”

The healing power of political activism is too optimistic and narrow and puts too much of a burden on these brave students.

We know more about the psychology of school shooters than we do of their victims or survivors. But we know enough.

School shooting survivors face life in the aftermath of a shooting that requires trying to be “normal” around people who do not understand what being part of a school shooting does to a person.

Survivors often change as students. School enrollment drops. Scores on standardized tests decline, probably because the experience of violence actually modifies the brain, particularly the parts that control cognition and judgment.

Lower test scores may make it more difficult to get into the best colleges or even to do well in college. It may even affect the survivors’ long-term incomes.

Students show signs of PTSD. Survivors develop a sense of guilt. As the sociologist Patrick Sharkey documents in his book “Uneasy Peace,” over time, this can lead to withdrawal from everyday activities. School becomes a source of tension and anxiety. Teachers transfer.

This may seem too dire, and of course this perspective is also one-sided.

Maybe it underestimates the therapeutic power of participation in the movement. All this political work, especially with other survivors, could be reassuring and help develop a unified consciousness that reduces the effects of the trauma.

At the same time the all-hail-to-the-Love-Potion Number Nine healing power of political activism is too optimistic and narrow and puts too much of a burden on these brave students.

These students deserve a more human face.

Think of Delaney Tarr as a product of two powerful forces. She is not simply a passionate political hero. She is also a high school student who has gone through something that is about as traumatic as it gets.

That makes her political activity more admirable because of all the challenges she and her classmates will encounter.

Look, I think what the students have accomplished since the Parkland shooting is extraordinary, certainly the brightest political light in the last few years.

But by defining them as so special, different and extraordinary, and assuming that their mastery of social media is so powerful, we wish away the recovery challenges they face and minimize the responsibility that the rest of us have for reducing violence.

It’s easy for high school students who have just gone through hell and won’t take it any more to stress how single-mindedly different and extraordinary their movement is. And those students do that so well.

Those of us who are older — and have raised children — need to remember the limits of teenage enthusiasm.

Instead of saying anything more, I invite you to take a couple of minutes to watch a brief “Late Night With Seth Meyers” video.

It’s called “Teenagers: Saving Our Country So You Don’t Have To.”

About the Author