School Violence Prevention: Watching for the Warning Signs
Tips from Mary Muscari, associate professor at Binghamton University, State University of New York, and author of Not My Kid: 21 Steps for Raising a Nonviolent Child, offers advice on looking for school violence warning signs.
BINGHAMTON, NY – School shootings, while heinous and frightening, remain relatively rare events, However, they leave behind a devastating aftermath of loss and psychological trauma and we need to take steps to recognize kids at risk to prevent further carnage.
Although there is no single profile for school shooters, there are some common warning signs. For some youth, combinations of behaviors and events may lead to violence. Not every child who exhibits warning signs becomes violent. However, we should not dismiss these signs as a phase, or resort to reactions such as ‘boys will be boys’. Warning signs are not diagnostic, nor are they designed to label students or cause professionals to jump to conclusions.
Warning signs are significant, especially when present in combination, and indicate that the child needs evaluation by an appropriate therapist:
• Homicidal or suicidal ideation; feelings of persecution; projection of blame onto others; intolerance for differences or prejudicial attitudes
• Feelings of rejection: social isolation; no friends; victim of bullying; acts/dresses in manner that adds to alienation
• Family values of violence as a way to deal with problems; family dysfunction; poor emotional attachment to parents or caregivers; lack of supervision
• Gangs. Admits to being in gang; wears ‘colors’; graffiti/tattoos on books body; using hand signals
• Exposure to domestic violence, child abuse, community violence
• Poor socialization skills: intimidating and bullying behaviors; uncontrolled anger
• Obsession with violence: preoccupation with music, movies, video games, writing and/or art with violent themes; inappropriate access to, possession of and use of firearms; committing acts of violence
• School problems: low interest in school, poor academic performance; history of discipline problems; truancy
• Drug and/or alcohol abuse These signs are usually quite apparent and require immediate action:
• Detailed threats of serious violence
• Serious physical fighting
• Severe property destruction
• Severe rage for apparently minor reasons
• Possession of guns or other weapons
• Threats of suicide or self-injurious behavior When these signs are apparent, safety is the first and foremost concern. The safest action would be to contact law enforcement authorities immediately.
About Mary Muscari: Associate professor, Decker School of Nursing; Binghamton University, State University of New York
Topics areas: parenting, from toddler age and up, especially teens. She has conducted a number of parenting workshops around the country; most popular topics: keeping kids safe from predators ('live' and Internet), bullying, raising nonviolent kids.
Parenting books include:
Everything Book: Raising Adolescent Girls (Moira Mc Carthy with Dr. Mary Muscari) (2008)
Everything Book Raising Adolescent Boys (Robin Weiss with Dr. Mary Muscari) (2008)
Let Kids be Kids: Rescuing Childhood (2006)
Not My Kid 2: Protecting your Kids from the 21 Threats of the 21st Century (2004)
Not My Kid: 21 Steps to Raising a Nonviolent Child (2002)