Talking with Your Teen about School Violence

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The primary topic in the media currently, is the mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. This has certainly brought about dialogue about gun control, mental health, and student safety in schools. Despite what has happened recently, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that school-related violence is actually lower than in previous years and statistically, school is the safest place for children to be. But it can be hard to believe statistics when you have an incident like the one in Florida – and at Sandy Hook and at Columbine. Our children need to talk about these incidences and other school violence – so what is the best way to talk with them about it? University of Minnesota Extension has a great fact sheet that is part of the "Teen Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents of Teenagers" series, that gives these great tips:

  • 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.

The fact sheet also covers how schools can help kids stay safe and what is known about the teens that commit these types of 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.

Additional warning signs in teens include:

  • 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.

To view the entire fact sheet and to find other resources regarding the prevention of school violence, check out this link