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Gen Xers wonder how the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy would be handled by adults today

As children we watched a teacher and six astronauts explode on live TV, then went right back to class.

NASA/Public Domain

The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986.

For the baby boomer generation, the question "Where were you when JFK was shot?" evokes a core memory. For Gen Xers, it's "Where were you when the Challenger exploded?" Nearly four decades later, most of us can still recall where we were when the tragic mission went terribly wrong.

Most of us were in classrooms. The space shuttle mission had been hyped in schools across the country for months, as high school teacher Christa McAuliffe had been chosen from 11,000 applicants to become the first civilian in space. McAuliffe had done countless interviews and been part of news and television specials showing how she was being trained for the mission, and by the time of the launch, she'd become a household name.

the seven astronauts on the crew of the space shuttle challengerSeven astronauts, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, were killed in the Challenger explosion. NASA/Public Domain

On January 28, 1986, millions of children across the country were eagerly watching the live TV feed in their classrooms when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded mid-air, just 73 seconds after liftoff. Confusion followed by shock and horror set in as we realized that we'd just watched seven people die in real time—six astronauts, who held almost god-like status for kids in the 1980s, and a woman who could have been any of our favorite teachers.

I was in 5th grade. My teacher cried. Then she turned off the television and we just…went back to class.

Gen X is sometimes referred to as the forgotten generation—the latchkey kids raised by two working parents who learned to be independent as well as cynical and aloof due to benign neglect. But as a social media meme points out, the Challenger tragedy and aftermath serves as an example of why we are the way we are.

The meme shared by Gen X Only on Facebook reads, "If you ever wonder why Gen X is the way it is, remember that teachers hyped a rocket launch and astronauts that then exploded in front of us. No counseling, no hugs or reassurances. They just assigned more homework. And this is just a sample."

middle aged woman's face with text overlay

This explains some things about Gen X.

GenX Only | Facebook

Gen Xers in the comments then shared their memories of that day, and they do make one wonder how differently schools would respond if the same thing happened today. Mental health wasn't a big focus in schools in the 80s, and the idea that kids were traumatized by what they saw and might need some help processing it barely seemed like a blip on the radar.

"Saw it in my 4th grade class with my favorite teacher Ms.waters , I just remember my teacher crying and walking out of the classroom .I was super confused I remember that, I know what we just watched wasn't normal! and we went on with our day literally, no mention of it I don't remember at home or anything." – Stacey R.

"Yep, saw it live, then they turned off tv and went on with class. Not sure what the guidance counselors did in those days??!!" – Kim M.

"I'll never forget this.I was in Spanish class, watching.When it exploded, there was gasps and silent confusion....Silence for what felt like forever. Spanish teacher broke from her rule of Spanish only in class. She looked at us with tears rolling down her face and said, "I can't believe that just happened.....(turns off TV, wipes tears) please pull out your book and turn to page (whatever it was)".And that was that." – Kelli L.

"It was traumatic! The TV gets rolled in on its cart. We learn all about the average person on the flight, a teacher, I mean how cool you can be a teacher and go to space. Classroom is all a buzz as we count down with the TV 3, 2, 1! Then wham giant explosion, wait, hold up, did everyone just die? Everyone, even the teacher is in total shock, the TV is still on as we hear them say the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, and there are no survivors. We all just sat in shock. I don't think it sank in for some of the kids what we had just witnessed. For those of us that understood it was a very strange day, a very strange few days. NOBODY talked about what we had witnessed. We just went through the motions of school, without any help to process it. We never watched any shuttle take off after that, and we used to watch all of them. When the TV got rolled in there wasn’t as much excitement as usual for the rest of the school year. And we all just moved on, because we didn't know what else to do, the adults just acted like it didn't happen." – Lori G.

"I was in 3rd grade...I remember watching it in class after spending all week doing special projects because an 'average' person who was a teacher was gonna get to go to space...it blew up and we thought there was a fireworks show because of how special this launch was hyped to be...And then we went about our day.." – David K.

Millennials had 9/11 as kids. Gen Z has seen school shooting after school shooting. Both Gen Z and Gen Alpha had the COVID pandemic onset as a core childhood memory.

But those younger generations have grown up with much more sensitivity and adult awareness when it comes to mental health issues. Teachers have more training in trauma and there's a better understanding that kids could be affected emotionally by witnessing something like the Challenger disaster. Some schools and classes held remembrances and memorials for the Challenger crew, planting trees in their honor and whatnot, which may have helped bring some closure to the event for some. But for many Gen X kids, all we remember was the horror of it happening and then a complete lack of any kind of processing of it—just a near-immediate moving on.

Was the unspoken "Life is tough, move on" message we received through that experience helpful or harmful to Gen Xers' development? Who knows. There's a fine line between traumatizing and toughening, and that line is likely different for each person. But it's interesting to think about how differently that event might be handled today with our greater grasp of how trauma works and knowing how weird it was to have so little acknowledgment of it at the time.


Artist beautifully illustrates the transformative power of turning toward fear

In just six images, Cécile Carre captures what therapy for fear and anxiety can do.

Fear is a finicky beast.

When my oldest daughter was in the deepest throes of a clinical phobia, her fear overtook everything. She practically became a hermit at 16, afraid to go anywhere. Thankfully, we found an excellent therapist who taught her how to tame her fear, to gently manage it, to approach it in such a way that allowed it to dissipate instead of continuing to dominate her every thought.

People who struggle with anxiety or fear, whether it stems from trauma or wonky brain wiring, understand how overwhelming it can be. Fear and anxiety can feel incapacitating at times, making you want to run far away or curl into the tiniest ball and disappear. But neither of those things actually helps. In fact, the first thing my daughter's therapist told her is that avoidance always make anxiety worse.

Instead, she taught my daughter to approach that fearful voice in her head. After all, that voice was hers, and it desperately wanted to be heard and understood. Ignoring it, avoiding it, trying to distract it way simply made it yell louder. "Maybe you're right," she would say to that voice, even though it terrified her to do so. "Maybe you're right, and maybe you're wrong. Let's just wait and see what happens"—that became her mantra to her own brain, and as counterintuitive as it seemed, it worked.

I could explain the science of the amygdala—the fight-or-flight center of the brain that acts on instinct—and why the "Maybe you're right" approach helped retrain it not to overreact. But an artist has created a visual series that describes it in different terms that may resonate more with people who have experienced embracing fear.

Cécile Carre posted her series of paintings about fear on Facebook and they've been shared more than 12,000 times. As with any art, interpretations will naturally vary, but judging from the comments, people dealing with anxiety, fear, or unhealed trauma may find some truth in it.

The first image shows a girl curled in a fetal position with her back to a big, scary monster bearing down on her, with a word painted beneath it.


As the girl turns and faces the monster, it immediately looks less scary. Still big, still towering over her, but not terrifying.


As the girl walks toward the monster, she starts looking bigger. The monster transforms into a mirror image of herself, the terror of it literally melting away.

"...to watch..."

And then it becomes a child looking for comfort rushing into her arms. Even its color begins to blend with her own.

"...and embrace..."

And then a baby, purely in need of nurturing, wrapped lovingly in her arms.

"...my fear..."

And then...nothing. Just a simple, calm little diamond where the girl was.

"...until it disappears completely..."

The work of turning toward what you fear is not simple or easy, and it may take therapy, medication, or other methods to treat mental illness effectively. But this series of paintings shows what many experience when they stop avoiding and start approaching the roaring voice that tells them to be afraid. Though it's thoroughly terrifying to make that initial turn—I saw it in my own daughter, and it took a lot of effort—seeing the beast shrink down and eventually disappear is an incredible gift.

Thank you, Cécile Carre, for illustrating that so beautifully. You can order her prints here.

This article originally appeared on 03.06.20

GIPHY, @melrobbins/TikTok

One in three Americans consume true crime content

Unlike the murder victims it centers around, there seems to be no end in sight for true crime, and the cult-like following it inspires. One in three Americans consume true crime content—be it in the form of a podcast, movies, television series, books, even online forums and videos—at least once a week. Thirteen percent of those folks would even say it’s their favorite genre.

But just what is it about this pop culture juggernaut that has us hooked? Danger and suspense? Mystery? Our fascination with the dark side of humanity?

Perhaps. But according to one psychologist, there’s another insidious reason lurking in the shadows of our subconscious.

While appearing on a recent episode of “The Mel Robbins Podcast,” Dr. Thema Bryant told viewers:

“If your idea of relaxing before you go to sleep is watching three episodes of ‘Law & Order,’ I would encourage you to think about, ‘Why is trauma relaxing to me?’”

Driving the point home, Bryant follows up with, “That’s what it is. It’s harm, crime violation, attacks, and that’s what’s going to soothe me into my bedtime.”

Bryant explained that her clients who engage in this activity often say they enjoy it because it feels “normal and familiar.”

In other words, some of us might be crime aficionados because of unresolved trauma.

@melrobbins If your idea of “relaxing” before bed is watching a few episodes of Law & Order (or any other #truecrime show), listen up. This was just ONE of the many incredible mic drop moments 🎤 and knowledge bombs 💣 that @Dr Thema Bryant drops on the #melrobbinspodcast. Listen now!! 👉 “6 Signs You’re Disconnected From Your Power and How to Get It Back: Life-Changing Advice From the Remarkable Dr. Thema Bryant” 🔗 in bio #melrobbins #podcast #trauma #traumatok #healing #bingewatching ♬ original sound - Mel Robbins

“Some of us grew up in high stress, so people mistake peace for boring,” she said. “And it’s like, to come home to yourself, you have to lean into the discomfort, because it’s gonna feel unfamiliar.”

Bryant’s perspective was a bit of a mic drop moment online, with several true-crime fans coming to some shocking self realizations.

“[And] this was the moment I realized . . . I haven’t watched [‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’] since I went to therapy and started healing,” another person wrote. one person wrote on TikTok.

“Gut drop…Off to journal,” wrote another.

Over on Youtube, folks had a similar reaction.


“Ouch! Hit home! Never ever thought about that. Wow!” exclaimed one viewer.

Still, others weren’t so sold on the theory, and attested that there was much more nuance to their intrigue.

One person argued “The trauma isn’t relaxing to me- it’s the justice the characters/real people often get that I never did in my own life.”

Or maybe, a few suggested, people listen to true crime simply for its distinct monotonous timbre.

“I really thought it's because of the boring solemn tone of the show, the soothing voice of the narrator,” one person quipped.

There might be other components at play as well. According to YouGov.com, over half of all American true crime consumers say it not only gives them a better understanding of the justice system, but it makes them more empathetic as well—which goes against the common sentiment that the genre desensitizes people to violence and makes them overly fearful or paranoid.


As any good detective knows, all motivations are worth considering. I think we can all agree that it’s always interesting to contemplate why we do the things we do. Whether that’s committing a crime, or using one to go to sleep.

Pop Culture

Husband asks if he was wrong for not defending wife during armed robbery

Everyone always assumes what they'll do, but this guy unfortunately found out.

A wife is upset that her husband didn't defend her during an armed robbery.

One thing humans are really good at is hearing about a tragic situation and telling others how they would've handled it differently, which presumably would've resulted in a better outcome. But the thing is, no one actually knows how they'll respond to a terrifying situation until they go through it. Even those with specialized training don't know how they'll respond until the thing they've been training for is unfolding in front of them.

This is why we see stories of police officers mistaking a cell phone for a gun or not immediately entering a building to stop a gunman. So it's interesting that people think they'll make just the right decision in a traumatic situation as an everyday citizen. Trauma does weird things to your brain in the moment, and oftentimes we aren't in control of what our brains decide to do.

But one man on Reddit says his wife believes he should've been able to override his trauma response to "defend" her during an armed robbery. Overwhelmingly, his AITA thread is proving that he is indeed not the bad guy in this situation.

The anonymous poster explained that after a date night, he and his wife decided to cut through the park for a romantic walk home. That's when things quickly took a turn.

"Well shortly after we get approached by two guys who present, what we believe, are guns demanding our phone/wallets. We are totally caught by surprise and freaked out so we hand everything over," the man wrote. "They get more elevated and tell us to 'take off your sh*t'. Now I’m starting to panic, obviously, but what the h*ll am I going to do against a gun."

AITAH; AITA; Reddit; armed robbery; trauma response

Silhouette of person holding a gun

Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

Eventually, the husband and wife found themselves standing in their underwear when the men finally took off running. The couple flagged down a driver who called the police and gave them something to cover themselves while they waited for law enforcement to arrive.

The entire event was traumatic, to say the least, but a few days later, his wife angrily confronted him about his failure to protect her during the robbery. And while they both experienced the same traumatic event, their responses afterward were different. Because again, trauma does weird things to your brain. This includes feeling irrationally angry and blaming others for what may have felt like inaction on their part, when logically, you know they couldn't have done anything differently.

In this situation, you had men who were armed with guns and who were becoming more hostile. Had the original poster attempted to become an Avenger in that moment, it's a good guess that neither he nor his wife would be here to seek advice from strangers on the internet.

"You both probably would have been shot and killed if you fought back. It happened to a family member of mine. You did the right thing," one commenter wrote. "Trauma gives people weird feelings and reactions. I hope you guys talk to a therapist to process it."

"This is absolutely a trauma response. Not a doubt in my mind. Trauma affects everyone differently. Hell, it even affects the same person differently at different times," someone who works in the mental health field said in part. "It's really important to find some therapy help soon though. The longer you wait, the worst it can get. And try not to take what your wife said personally. There's a whole lot to unpack after something like this, and right now, you're the closest one, and thus the easiest to lash out at."

The internet isn't all bad. Many commenters reassured the husband that he did nothing wrong and explained that his wife's response is also likely related to the trauma. Hopefully, they both come to realize there's no wrong or right response when it comes to surviving a traumatic event and seek out a qualified trauma therapist to help them overcome that night.