What if the Next Shooting is at My School?
Jodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Department of Family Social Science
Revised 2011. Reviewed April 2017 by author.
Sometimes it can feel like the news is filled with reports of school shootings and other violence. However, according to National Center for Education Statistics, school-related violence is actually lower than in previous years. Statistically, school is the safest place for children to be. The majority of children are safe at school.
How to Talk to Your Teen
It is important to talk to your teenager about school violence and to listen to his thoughts and concerns on this issue.
- It is okay to express fear at what has happened and compassion for the students and families who have survived these horrors.
- Explain that there is a difference between being different from other students and having severe problems that lead to extreme violence.
- Express to your teen how important it is to let you or another adult know if s/he hears another child threatening violence towards himself or others.
- Talk about what it might feel like to be an outcast at school and find out if your teen is having trouble fitting in.
- Teens are aware of social issues so talk with them about bigger issues, like gun control and what they can do to help keep their school safe.
- Talk with your kids about solving problems constructively. Help them to find appropriate solutions to problems without using violence.
How Schools Can Help Kids Stay Safe
Decreasing violence in schools requires a joint commitment from the school, the students, the parents, and the community. Here are some practices that schools have found to be effective:
- Increased supervision by administrators and security guards.
- Checking visitors’ IDs.
- Tracking all incidents of violence in full detail.
- Keeping track of students who have been in trouble in the past either in school or in the community.
- Increasing mental health services for students.
- Placing telephones in classrooms.
- Making peer counseling available.
- Teaching conflict resolution or anger management.
- Eliminating backpacks or restricting their use.
What We Know About the Teens Committing These Crimes
Students who are potentially violent tend to exhibit more than one of the following:
- Inability to recognize their own anger and redirect it so it does not lead to violent behavior.
- Difficulty recognizing others’ feelings.
- Feeling no remorse.
- Believing that the only solution is to take matters into their own hands.
- No positive role models.
- Feeling unloved at home and unaccepted at school.
- Experienced either physical or psychological abuse, or neglect.
- Inability to see their future.
Be aware of these additional warning signs in teens:
- Name calling, abusive language, and threats of violence.
- Preoccupation with weapons or violence.
- Cruelty to animals.
- Problems with drugs or alcohol.
- Discipline problems at school such as truancy or expulsion.
- Few or no close friends, feeling like an outcast at school.
- Bullied or bullies others.
- Preference for movies, TV, music, video games, reading, or clothes with violent themes.
- Expressions of anger, frustration, or violence in writing or drawings.
- Suicide threats or attempts.
- Depression or mood swings.
Where to Go for Help
Note that there is a difference between feeling down one day and being depressed. It is not normal for teenagers to be severely depressed or extremely moody!If you observe any of these behaviors in your teen or another teen, contact the school counselor, your physician, or a mental health professional.
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Espelage, D., & Swearer, S. M. (2010). Bullying in North American schools (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Garbarino, J. (2000). Lost boys: Why our sons turn violent and how we can save them. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Garbarino, J. (2007) See Jane hit: Why girls are growing more violent and what we can do about it. New York, NY: Penguin.
Garbarino, J. & deLara, E. (2003). And words can hurt forever: How to protect adolescents from bullying, harassment, and emotional violence. New York, NY: Free Press
National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). Fast Facts: School Crime.
Swearer, S., Espelage, D., & Napolitano, S. A. (2009). Bullying prevention and intervention: Realistic strategies for schools. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
About School Violence — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Learn the definitions, review the data and statistics, and get prevention strategies.
School Safety — National Crime Prevention Council — Tips and resources for students, parents, and teachers to help keep America's schools safe.
For Parents: Violence Prevention — National PTA — What PTAs can do and where to learn more information.
A Positive School Climate Can Mean a Successful School Year — Child Trends — An outline of what a positive school climate looks like for students, staff and families on a day-to-day basis.