Recent accounts of school violence freak most of we parent-lunatics out. This is understandable as the stories are horrific, sensational and in our face when we access the media. I mean for this entry, however, to have a calming effect. I have two primary messages: (1) the rates of school violence appear to be either stable or on the decline and (2) there are multiple preventative measures available.
Rates of School Violence
The Center for Disease Control does a national survey of the risky behaviors engaged in by high school students every couple of years. It is called The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. In the 2013 version (which reported on data collected in 2011), over 15,000 high school students were surveyed. What follows are comparisons of rates of violent behaviors across years of the survey:
Carried a weapon
Carried a gun
A student was threatened or injured on school property
A student was in a physical fight on school property
While any numbers above 0% call us to action, trends such as these may help us to keep the dialogue on track and in perspective.
I do not mean for this list to be anywhere near comprehensive. What I mean to share are four strategies that, if universally applied, would likely significantly and powerfully reduce the rates of school violence.
√ Maintain, expand or develop school based anti-bullying programs. The entire spectrum of bullying behaviors seems to synergize the risk for violence. Thus, school districts do well to develop and support comprehensive anti-bullying programs; this should include cyber bullying, relational bullying and racial bullying.
√ Do not let youth have unsupervised access to firearms. This is such a no-brainer that I feel like I’m insulting your intelligence to say more. But let me press a little bit by quoting just one of the many studies on point. This study is referencing profiles of youth who had completed suicide: “Firearms…were the manner of death in the majority (70%) of victims whose homes contained firearms.” (I’m a just a lowly psychologist. But, I almost wonder if it would make for good social policy to hold parents responsible if a youth gets access to a gun in their home and hurts himself/herself or someone else.)
√ Promote each child’s competencies. I’ve elaborated on this theme in this blog and in my parenting book (e.g., methods for identifying competencies). But if a child has instrumental (i.e., specific tasks he or she is good at) and/or social competencies, and has regular opportunities to manifest such, that child possesses a mighty protective shield against life’s slings and arrows. As a related issue, I would suggest putting any vulnerable youth on display at school for a unique and positive contribution (e.g., the kid who raises and lowers the school flag, takes care of a mascot, helps the janitors, holds doors in the morning).
√ Promote each parent spending one hour each week one-on-one with each child doing special time. Readers of this blog, or my parenting book, know where I’m coming from with this. To summarize a complex discussion: I believe that an hour of special time a week is to a child psychologist what a daily apple is to a child’s pediatrician (i.e., as in “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”). Schools would also do well to create opportunities for teachers or administrators to spend one-on-one time with vulnerable youth (e.g., share a lunch), if only once or twice a month.
In closing let me offer that those wishing to develop strategies for discussing school violence with their kids might find some helpful tips in this article.