On the Benefits of Trigger Warnings

Trigger warning

Trigger warnings have been a fairly prevalent topic of discussion lately, and it seems that no one is neutral on the topic. Some people insist that trigger warnings have no place in society, like the University of Chicago famously did a few months ago. The way that trigger warnings have been conflated with the desire of some people to refuse to listen to opposing points of view has angered people to the whole concept is concerning. However, this article will only discuss trigger warnings as they actually are, not what the perception of them is. 

What are Trigger Warnings?:

Game of Thrones Trigger WarningFirst, let me explain what trigger warnings are. Trigger warnings are cautionary advisories attached to a piece of content (whether officially or unofficially) that advise those who want to consume that content that there may be parts of that content that could cause potential trauma that the consumer has suffered to resurface. They’re called “trigger warnings” because they allude to the psychological term “trauma trigger,” which refers to “an experience that causes someone to recall a previous traumatic memory.” For example, a writer of an article may put a warning at the beginning of an article that describes a graphic incident of rape. Or, for a more relevant example, someone on the Internet, having seen last week’s episode of The Walking Dead (relevant confession: I have never seen The Walking Dead) might have posted a warning regarding the especially violent dispatching of a well loved character.

These warnings don’t necessarily mean “leave this content and don’t come back.” Rather, they’re more in the vein of “If you can handle this content right now, feel free. If not, come back another time and it will be waiting for you.” One could even compare these warnings to spoiler alerts or MPAA ratings: they can alert consumers to content they might not want to see right now, and when they feel up to it, they can return and consume the content. Trigger warnings happen to be directed towards people who have certain types of issues, which is why it’s concerning to see this real need conflated with the hatred of so-called “political correctness,” which itself often means not wanting to use polite and careful language when talking to people who are not like you.

How Can Trigger Warnings Benefit People?:

So how can trigger warnings benefit people? Apart from the obvious statement that trigger warnings help people who have issues with trauma not have to relive that trauma, other people may find them beneficial. If clear and obvious warnings before content were somewhat normalized, it would help make content more accessible to everyone. Sure MPAA warnings exist, but how many people look up the reasons for the ratings (available on filmratings.com, if you’re curious) when watching a movie on Hulu and Netflix? If you’re raising nerds and trying new content together, it would be easier to gauge if your youngling(s) can handle the new content at their age if there were warnings at the beginning of the content. For example, I just reviewed Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath. At the beginning of the book, the author explained that the tales in the book get more graphic as the book goes on. In addition, he also included content warnings for each story that contained certain topics. Since this book also focused on Porath’s art, he made those content warnings unobtrusive symbols on the side of the page. Rejected Princesses provided a good example of how trigger warnings can be both unobtrusive and a guide for new content consumers. 

In conclusion, trigger warnings can provide an improvement to society. Other than their main goal of protecting people who have gone through trauma, trigger warnings can advise unexperienced content consumers on whether they can watch the show with their kids or in mixed company. The reasons for MPAA ratings aren’t always obvious to consumers, which might lead to people watching something upsetting that they aren’t ready for. Trigger warnings attached to more content would decrease this possible issue.

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About the author

Siobhan Dempsey

Siobhan is a 24 year old MLIS student who prefers to read over socializing and is passionate about diversity and accessibility.

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