Since we first began looking at violence among young people and school safety in the late 1990s, we have seen some very encouraging trends. Despite the perceptions that schools are less safe, data show that bullying, violence and crime have actually decreased over the last two decades.
In fact, statistics released last spring by the Departments of Education and Justice show that the percentages of public schools reporting incidents of crime were lower in the 2015-16 school year than in every prior survey year to date. Meanwhile, the percentage of students in grades nine through 12 who reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property during the previous 12 months decreased from 9 percent in the 2000-01 school year to 6 percent in the 2016-17 school year. During that same time, the percentage of students ages 12 to 18 who reported being afraid of being attacked or harmed at school decreased from 6 percent to 4 percent.
While the news overall is good, some young people are still behaving violently. In 2016, for example, there were about 215,000 serious violent crimes committed by youths between the ages of 12 and 17 in the United States. Also, consider the tragic numbers related to school shootings: An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students in elementary through high school have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. As of 2018, about 250 students and teachers have been killed in those shootings.
What does this tell us?
There continue to be children in need of help.
The vast majority of youths perpetrating these acts suffer from undiagnosed attachment disorders or mental illness, have histories of abuse and neglect, have lived in single-parent homes with young and highly stressed mothers and have had at least one parent with a criminal record.
We know that children with a history of severe attachment disorder often develop aggressive, controlling and conduct-disordered behaviors, which contributes to the development of an antisocial personality. As early as the latency years and preadolescence, they exhibit a lack of conscience, self-gratification at the expense of others, lack of responsibility, dishonesty and a blatant disregard for the rules of family and society.
The following are warning signs of potentially violent behavior:
- Social withdrawal, especially if this is a behavior change
- Excessive feelings of rejection
- Increasing upset about being teased or bullied
- Impulsive or chronic abuse or bullying of others
- Increase in drug and alcohol use
- Personality changes, such as mood swings, angry acting out, or isolating oneself
- Intolerance for differences regarding ethnic and racial backgrounds or sexual orientation
- Access to weapons
- Intense interest in violence, including video games, movies, and use of weapons
- Violent feelings expressed through drawing, writing or fantasy
- Extreme reactions of anger in response to seemingly minor incidents
In most cases, these warning signs grow out of some form of social isolation — from family, friends, school and community. Youth who feel cared about, supported and connected are less likely to act out. With this in mind, educators and parents can work together to create conditions in schools (and homes) that prevent violence by supporting:
- A sense of belonging – Ensuring that children participate in and feel like a valuable member of the community.
- A sense of accomplishment – Validating efforts, perseverance, values and competencies in addition to academic achievement.
- Role models – Making sure that each student has a caring adult they can trust, turn to for advice and feel connected to.
- Self-confidence – Encouraging children to believe they can be successful and make a difference.
- A feeling of responsibility – Conveying the message that students are responsible for their decisions; giving each student a voice in the learning environment.
- Creativity – Encouraging students to question, explore and be inquisitive.
- A spirit of adventure – Letting children know it is okay to try and fail, as well as to succeed.
- Fun – Showing children that learning can be fun by providing interesting and exciting learning experiences.
If you are concerned about your child’s behaviors or you need a partner in advocating for you child, contact Evergreen Psychotherapy Center. We are here to help.