- Education and Science
Prevent School Violence | School Safety
Are Our Schools Safe?
A horrendous school shooting stripped families of their innocent kindergarten children less than 24 hours ago as I write this. People around the nation found themselves in tears yesterday as they learned about the victims and their families who will never recover from the tragedy visited on them by a disturbed individual, and just a day later the event has become a political agenda.
While it may be impossible to avoid political ramifications that follow tragic events, there's something that I find truly deplorable: Apathy.
Children spend nearly as much time in school as adults spend at work. That means they spend more time out of their parents' care than they do in it! Educators have long complained that parents aren't actively supporting their children's learning experience, and tragedies like this one highlight just how terribly their families can be hurt by what happens at school.
It doesn't take a shooting for schools to have a bad effect on a child. Bullying is rampant and can produce just as deadly an outcome.
I'm all for hugging your children a little tighter before going to bed at night, but that's not enough to make sure that your child's school is a safe place. Consider these alarming statistics:
- Without calculating in mass shootings, about 16-17 students a year die from school violence.
- More than 10% of middle and high school aged students reported getting into a fight during the school year.
- 5.9% skipped school because they felt unsafe during the month before they answered survey questions.
- Another 5.4% had carried a weapon to class in the same thirty days.
- One of every five students reported that they'd been bullied in the last year.
As a parent, you have an obligation to protect your child to the best of your ability. Will you accept a challenge to read this article and take at least one reasonable action to do that?
Violence Prevention Starts with You
Every parent has a responsibility to protect his or her child, but how can they do that while the child is in school? There aren't any well-known guidelines or rule books to follow! Plus, they can't reasonably determine whether a risk exists. After all, they don't know who comes into the school, or what problems another student may be facing, or how the school can predict and prevent such things.
Fortunately, we can glean some lessons from the FBI that can be used to adopt an approach that can help ensure school safety.
School shootings are uncommon, but school violence is an everyday reality. This video reveals why it's important to talk to your child and his or her school.
The FBI's Info About School Violence
The FBI's thorough report on school shooters reminds us that we cannot accurately predict violence and could misuse information to wrongfully treat an innocent person as a criminal. This is certainly worth keeping in mind. A witch-hunt mentality is just as bad as an ignorant one that doesn't use sound reasoning to look for solutions!
The government has studied the topic to develop a four-pronged approach to evaluate threats that requires considering:
- A person's personality and character traits
- Their family dynamics
- The school environment
- Social influences
I'll discuss each of these in more detail and how you as a parent can use this information.
What Makes People Violent?
People of all ages can resort to violence. They may be trying to establish control, gain attention, or prevent themselves from harm (real or imagined.) About half of the people who have committed mass shootings or violence made threats beforehand. When anyone - a student or other person - makes a threat, it should be taken seriously as a signal to evaluate risk.
As a parent, you can ask your child's school whether they have guidelines in place to:
- identify threats
- evaluate them
- respond to them
Schools should be educating their teachers on how to spot and report potential threats. Not all threats are created equal! A student who brings a knife to school to cut cake for the Christmas party isn't as big a threat as a student who says, "I've got a gun that I'm going to use to kill my math teacher Wednesday." However, even the child who brought the cake should be evaluated within reason. Oh, you've got a knife for the cake? Is that all you're using it for? might be sufficient to rule out any other plans, but it's important to use common sense and not allow every student to bring knives into class. Any possibility of a threat should be examined to whatever degree is necessary.
When a threat has been identified, here are some factors that should be considered:
- A person who feels angered or persecuted.
- A person who has trouble dealing with their problems.
- A person who lacks empathy for others.
- A person who has problems with authority or following rules.
- A person who does not respect others.
The presence of one or two of these things doesn't automatically mean that a risk is present, but as a parent, you should verify that your school district has a plan for finding out this information. Do they have a standard operating procedure that asks a school counselor to talk to the person who presents a risk, or is it referred to the police? Does the principal try to evaluate it directly, and if so, what training does he or she have? Ask these questions to make sure your child's school is addressing the first prong of threat evaluation.
Outside of school, you can be alert to these signs, too. Your child might talk about a "weird" student at school. When my stepdaughter told me that a student who had been expelled a few years earlier for bringing a gun to school had been let back into class, I grilled her for information and made an appointment with the principal to talk about the situation. She told me that the boy had shown some unreasonable anger responses to small triggers, like cursing her out when she offered to help him find his place in the textbook. By speaking with the principal, I helped the school become better aware of a potential threat and got reassurance about how the school was addressing matters.
Become familiar with the psychology of school bullying as it affects teachers, students, and family members so you can have maximum impact on your child's well-being.
Family Dynamics and Threat
What happens in the family doesn't stay in the family! Each of us carries our values and beliefs everywhere we go. For most of us, our beliefs let us live in our community peacefully, but sometimes just one family member can have beliefs that prove problematic. An abusive parent or sibling, for instance, can make a family member believe that violence is a way to solve problems. In another family, unusual religious beliefs could result in a student feeling stigmatized.
Ask your child's school administration how they obtain information about family dynamics when a threat is identified. As an adult, be aware of others' family situations that could provoke violence in the future. If you have reason to believe that any member of that family could be undergoing a high level of stress, talk to the school administration about it before it becomes a threat. Ask the school to intervene, and if they won't do it, determine if the police might.
While I do NOT encourage everyone to do this, if you have a good relationship with the family member, it might also be worthwhile to ask them if they're feeling ok. Showing that you care and helping them locate the help that they need could avert a problem later on.
Programs like the one featured in the video and in the link below reveal that it is possible to reduce the likelihood of violence - both in and out of school. Consider becoming an active participant in developing programs like these with your child's school.
Schools and Social Factors Can Reduce All Violence
- Olweus Bullying Prevention Program
This anti-bullying program is widely endorsed for reducing school bullying. This page provides an overview of the program and has links to the program's effectiveness and how to become a trainer.
The school itself can sometimes contribute to problems that become violent episodes. Do the students feel that their concerns will be ignored? Does the school have reasonable expectations for students? Is discipline lax, or is it firm, fair, and consistent?
As a parent, insist on having a voice that ensures your school takes reports of bullying and threats seriously. If you have concerns about how the administration is addressing disciplinary matters, taking it up at the local level can sometimes produce good results. If that doesn't happen, seek out the school district superintendent. If that still doesn't work, consider contacting your state's Department of Education to get answers.
Social Factors Contribute to School Violence
Popular media often promotes dysfunctional and violent messages. Video games may teach that killing is a way to gain power or a fun past time. Movies and television may promote beliefs that are at odds with healthy values. How often does a gun or a gangster seem to solve a problem on programs designed for entertainment?
Even churches can be problematic. My friend's son is a devout Christian who enjoys listening to a popular church's Internet music broadcast. He liked it so much that he traveled four hours to attend one of the church's events. That same weekend, a murder was reported on the news that claimed the church, or at least a subgroup of its members, had murdered another member because she was preparing to report certain people for sexually abusing her.
By talking to your child about what they're learning from the websites they visit and activities they take part in socially, you can exert more influence that will help them recognize problems. Ask them "What did you think about that movie?" "Do you agree with or disagree with what you heard?"
Also, don't be afraid to limit your child's exposure to violence and unmonitored Internet activity. Children under the age of about ten cannot distinguish well between fantasy and reality, and even older children can be lured into bad situations that create inner conflict and stress.
Don't miss this award-winning book that teaches important things to know about self-defense and preventing violence, in and out of school.
School Safety Programs
Will you take up the challenge I offered at the start of this hub by doing one or both of these things?
- Take part in making sure your child's school is capable of evaluating and responding to threats.
- Actively help your student recognize threats.