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How to Understand & Prevent It

Authored by William G. DeFoore, Ph.D.

school violence

Ready For Some Good News?

Because of the growing problem of school violence and the growing response of concerned people like you, there is more good information and positive action in this area today than ever before! 

That's, concerned people like you have responded to the rising need to prevent school violence, and produced some wonderful resources to help prevent the tragic and painful losses that result when students become violent.

Keep reading to find out how you can join in and become part of the positive, loving and powerful group of good folks who are helping to understand and prevent this devastating problem.

This page is for anybody and everybody who wants to understand school violence and how to prevent it. Click on the link below that best describes you:

Are you a student?

Are you thinking about violence?

Do you work at a school?

Are you a parent?

Is your child potentially violent?

To get started, let's see if we can get on the same page about the problem of school violence. This is for the purpose of understanding the problem, which is the first step to prevention. We're going to try to take a positive and loving approach here, and as we go along, you'll see why. One of the main causes of anger and violence in general is lack of information and misinformation. You might want to check some general information on parenting teenagers with anger problems.

You're going to get some good information here, and you will find links on this page to a lot more good information around the world. So, sit back and relax and expect to be encouraged by what you find. You're not alone--by a long shot--in your desire to make our children's schools safe for them and the people who work there.

Here are some thoughts to consider about school violence and the youths who perpetuate it:

school violence
  • It is essential that children learn the necessary child anger management techniques to prevent school violence.
  • Violent kids need help. They are not bad or evil, although their thoughts and actions can most certainly be bad and dangerously destructive. Learn how to stop bullying in your school or neighborhood.
  • Most violent students are outcasts, misfits or victims of some kind of persecution before they commit acts of violence. Good adolescent rites of passage processes can help create a sense of place and belonging for troubled youths.
  • Clicques, groups or organizations that exclude others cruelly or unkindly can contribute to the problem of school violence without realizing it.
  • Everyone wants to feel that they belong, and that they matter. That is human nature. This is especially true for children and teens, and especially if they act like they don't want to belong to anything!
  • School violence is the responsibility of everyone who has any contact with children. That means all of us. Everyone who has the opportunity to send the message, "You're okay with me. I accept you. You have a place here, no matter how different or uncool or unhappy you are." Inclusion is the key to avoiding the ostracizing that so often leads to isolation and violence.

students helping

Want To Help Another Student?

As a student concerned about another student, the best thing you can do to help them is to include them in any way that you can. Feeling excluded, unliked, outcast and even hated can often be a cause of violent behavior among young people. You can do something about that!

You have a lot more power to help with school violence than you many think. Just letting that angry, depressed or lonely student know they have a place where they belong can sometimes be enough to turn a situation around. Kids who have become violent are almost always feeling outcast, ridiculed, misunderstood or unwanted. If you are concerned about severe depression or suicidal tendencies in a child or adolescent, learn about preventing teen suicide.

Here are some things you can do to help someone you are concerned about:

  • Invite them to lunch.
  • Ask them to sit with you at lunch.
  • Learn their name and say "Hi" to them in the halls, and call them by their name. Remember, school violence usually erupts among students who feel isolated and disconnected.
  • Sit next to them in a class that you're both in.
  • Tell some of your friends about your plan, and see if they will help out too. Preventing school violence is a community effort. Learn about teenage anger management here and perhaps share that web link with the kids you're concerned about.
  • Find out when their birthday is, and wish them a "Happy Birthday."
  • Invite them to be a member of a committee or group you're in, and maybe give them a task if they're open to that.
  • Choose them to be on your team in athletics. Preventing school violence is all about inclusion vs. exclusion.
  • Over lunch, or just hanging out, find out what they like to do, what their interests are and talk about those things with them without judgment.
  • See them as well, healthy and safe in your mind. Picture them making good choices. Believe in their ability to rise above any negative feelings they may be caught up in. When you do this, they'll know, and you will begin to see positive changes. Learn about the power you have when you focus on the good.

Here are some things not to do:

  • Don't try to change or fix them. Try to accept them as they are and get to know them before offering any kind of help or advice--and sometimes don't even offer it then.
  • If you're religious, and want to talk to them about your faith, it's best to wait until you get to know them first. When they trust you and start to get the feeling that you really care, they are a lot more likely to listen. Besides, it's your actions that show the value of your beliefs, not your words.
  • Don't go too far past your comfort level. You are going out on a limb with any attempt to reach out to someone, but if you overextend yourself you'll end up betraying them and making the problem worse than it was before. Trust your own gut feelings, and choose from the above examples according to what you're most comfortable with.
  • Don't let your worry or fear about school violence take over. This is one of the things that causes a bad situation to get worse. Most kids are not near as bad as they try to act, or as bad as others think they are. Allow yourself to believe in the possibility that the kids you're worried about might just be okay, and make good decisions.
  • Don't underestimate the power of your positive attention for helping prevent school violence! Your smile, nod, or "Hey!" could just make some other kid's day, and sometimes could even prevent something awful from happening. Love is in the little things.

Meanwhile, be sure you're having fun and taking good care of yourself! This will make you a better example, and make the other students want to be around you. And, of course, it's good for you!

sultry teen

Looking For Help For Yourself?

So, you're angry, depressed, fed up, don't care, or filled with hate--and smart enough to do something about it? Good for you! No matter how you feel or what you're thinking, you're really a good person. Deep down inside you want to do the right thing, and that's why you're here and reading this.

Here are some things for you to consider as we get started:

  • Violent thoughts are totally normal when you're angry. A lot of people don't know that, but it's true. It doesn't mean that you're bad, or that you have to act on those violent thoughts. It just means you're angry, and that's okay--we just need to figure out some good things that you can do with your anger! I'm sure you don't want to be just another school violence statistic.
  • You're not as different or "weird" as you might think you are. You know what? I've never met anyone who hasn't felt left out, mistreated, picked on, unwanted or even hated at some point in their life. You're not alone. There are others who feel a lot like you, and there are some who want to help. And there are some kids who if you give them a chance, will get to know you and become your friend.
  • Have you ever tried putting yourself in another kid's shoes? This is called empathy, and it's really a cool thing to do. Just try imagining how the world looks from their viewpoint. A lot of times, violent kids don't really understand other kids, and think a lot of things about them that just aren't true.
  • You may not have gotten into hate, but if you have, this is for you. Most school violence comes from hate. What I want you to understand is that hatred hurts the hater. That's right, hatred is a kind of poison in your mind, which can even make you physically sick. Holding on to hatred is like drinking your daily dose of poison and wondering why you feel so bad. You probably have very good reasons for your anger, but that's different from hatred. The really cool thing is that when you deal with your anger, the hatred goes away!
  • If you are being mistreated or neglected at home, it might really help if you talk to someone about it. Try your school counselor, your favorite teacher, or even the school principal if you think they care and will listen. They may not be able to do anything about it, but sometimes just talking can help--just to let you know you don't have to carry the burden alone. You also might feel like talking to someone at your church. It is really, really important that you talk to someone about what is going on in your life! Believe me, there is somebody out there who cares.
  • You might not feel like it, but you actually have a good life out there in your future. The more you believe in yourself and do the next best thing, the sooner you will feel better and start to reach some of your goals.

school violence

Professionals Concerned About School Violence

My congratulations to you, for being a professional dedicated to the education and well being of our youth! And, I congratulate you for taking this preventive, proactive step to preventing school violence. I don't have to tell you that you are not only protecting the lives of your students, but yours and your co-workers as well. That is smart.

While I by no means have all of the answers about preventing violence in your school here, I can certainly give you some pointers and support.

Here are some thoughts and actions for you to consider:

  • Your internal thoughts, feelings and perceptions about your students are extremely powerful for preventing school violence. That means you have a lot of freedom to make a positive difference in their lives without saying or doing anything.
  • It is essential that you know the difference between anger and violence. Learn as much as you can about adolescent anger management as you possible can.
  • When you choose to believe in a troubled student, you are giving them a great gift. Make the concerted effort to see your most troubled students pulling through, making good decisions and turning around. Do this in your imagination, which is the creative laboratory of your mind. The next time they look into your eyes, they will see a glimmer of hope for their own future.
  • If you are someone who prays, then pray for the students in your school who are angry or potentially violent. Pray in a positive way, asking that they be guided to good choices, self-esteem and loving compassion. Close your prayer with, "Thy will be done." In prayer research, this has been found to be the most effective form of prayer.
prevent school violence
  • Make every effort to include troubled, outcast, neglected and rejected students in any way you can. Just show an interest in them, if nothing else. Ask how they're doing, and mean it. When appropriate, give them a position of leadership in a group or project. This can sometimes be a turning point in a child's life, and could actually prevent a school violence episode.
  • Call your troubled students by their name, and make a point of greeting them with a smile every time you see them. These small gestures can be huge events in the lives of children who feel worthless and bad. Your effort is to simply convey the unspoken message of, "You matter. I see you. I welcome you. I accept you as part of my life."

If you ever have an opportunity to talk directly with an angry, hate-filled student with the potential for school violence, the message you want to communicate in both spoken and unspoken ways is something like this:

"I can see that you're angry. And I can see that you are strong in your anger. I know that you want to be powerful, and you may think that violence is the way to gain that power. And I know that the reason you want power is that you are afraid. I'm scared too. I want to stand by you while we figure out what to do here, so we both don't have to be afraid. You're not alone. I'm with you."

You can take the above loving, positive actions while also exercising all of the necessary precautions to ensure your own and others' safety.

These suggestions are not made to take the place of appropriate security measures to prevent school violence from occurring. This is a big problem, and requires a multi-faceted approach. As a concerned school official, you are in an excellent position to make a positive difference while also taking preventive measures.

I'd like to also refer you to an extensive and detailed resource on school violence which will give you a lot of statistics and specific information on the subject:

The National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) provides a wealth of resources provided for and by students. This approach to preventing school violence is particularly effective, due to the power of peer influence.

For Parents Protecting Their Children

One of the most helpless feelings in the world is to fear for your child's safety and not be able to do anything about it. You do not have to live with this feeling.

You have a lot more power than you may think you have. Your intention, your focus, your faith vs. fear, your trust in your child, your trust in your own intuition and your ability to create and maintain your own peace of mind are all a part of your power. And, most importantly, your child will pick up on all of these internal processes within you, even if you don't say a word.

It is essential that you understand the power of fear, and the power of faith. Both are creative, meaning that if your fear becomes big enough you can unconsciously create exactly what you fear. The good news is that when your faith becomes strong enough, you will create the good outcomes you have faith in.

So! Have faith in:

  • Yourself, to be a good parent and make good decisions regarding your child's safety. Learning about anger management for teens and adolescent rites of passage will help you tremendously with this.
  • Your child. Believe in her/his ability to exercise good judgment and make decisions that will result in safety from harm. If you find yourself too angry and judgmental of your child to do this, you might want to learn about love, anger and forgiveness here.
  • The other students in the school. Most kids are good and will do the right thing.
  • The teachers, counselors and school officials who also want to prevent school violence. Their own safety is at stake, and they have chosen a profession that is in many ways unrewarded and challenging. They are good people.
  • Other parents. Have faith in the ones you know, but also in the ones you don't know. Just consider that most people are just doing their best to do the right thing, and that includes the other parents in your child's school.
  • Your God. Hopefully, you have a strong faith in a loving God. Prayer has been found to be highly effective, especially when faith is strong. So pray, and let go with "I know that my prayers are answered according to your will" and "Thy will be done" at the end. If prayer is not your thing, try meditation to help you find a sense of peace and hope for your situation.

Here are some additional thoughts and perspectives to consider:

  • The more you trust your child, the more empowered s/he will be to make good decisions and stay safe.
  • When your child gets a sense of confidence and peace in your presence, s/he will be more relaxed and confident as well. This state of relaxed confidence will enhance your child's awareness and sensitivity to her/his environment, so that s/he will pick up on cues and warning signs and act to prevent school violence.
  • Just as your faith will inspire confidence and good judgment in your child, your fear will decrease their confidence and impair their judgment.
  • If you have had success in overcoming and/or preventing aggression or violence in your own past, share these experiences with your son or daughter. Let them learn from your life experience.

Do You Think Your Child Might Be Violent?

Good for you, for taking this action to help your child! If you think your child might become violent, or if you know for sure that s/he has already become violent and you don't want it to get worse, you've come to the right place. You certainly don't want your son or daughter becoming a part of yet another school violence statistic.

There's nothing good about school violence. Your child might have very good reasons for his anger, however. The important thing for you is to be able to hear and acknowledge the anger, while making it very clear that the violence is unacceptable. See the above suggestions on how to talk to an angry child.

Some other very important things for you to consider are:

  • Communication is key. When children stop communicating with their parents, that's where the potential for school violence often begins.
  • It is entirely your responsibility to keep the lines of communication open with your child. You simply cannot blame your child for the communication breakdown. Sure, they make it hard, but you're the parent, and the responsible adult in the situation.
  • The more disconnected from your child you are, the more likely they are to become violent. Abandonment, neglect and rejection are subtle but powerful forms of abuse, and can be just as damaging as physical or sexual abuse. The power is in your hands to help your child.

And here are some things you can do right now to keep your child from committing school violence:

  • Start spending one-on-one time with them, doing things they like to do. Yes, I know it's hard when you can't stand their music or aren't interested in their video games, but the point here is for you to connect with them and understand their world. They need to get the message from you that you accept them, and want to understand them as best you can.
  • On your own, research and learn about the things your child is interested in. Try to approach the subjects with interest and curiosity and not judgment or condemnation. Again, the purpose is to understand and connect. You don't have to like what they like, just be a big enough person to understand.
  • Smile at them, hug them, call them by name. These simple acts of friendliness are worth a lot more than you may think. Often, children who commit school violence have decided that no one really understands or cares for them.
  • From time to time, when the opportunity arises, give them praise for little things. For example, "Thanks for coming home on time today," even if they always come home on time.
  • Create a rite of passage into adulthood for your adolescent son or daughter. This can sometimes be extremely helpful in helping a teen work through anger and aggression. Learn about Adolescent Rites of Passage here.
  • Try to counterbalance any punishment, negative feedback or criticism with a lot of praise, love and acknowledgment. Aim for a three-to-one ratio, where you are giving three positive statements (about them) for every negative one. When children get more punishment and/or criticism than praise, they will inevitably feel that they are "bad," and they might just decide to get "good at being bad." This is the worst case scenario you want to avoid, and it often leads to school violence and other types of destructive behavior.
  • Whenever you have the chance, say things like:
    • "You're a good kid."
    • "I sure do love you.
    • "You know, (call their name), I'm really proud of you in a lot of ways."
    • "You can do anything you set your mind to, and I'm sure you will make good decisions."
    • "Even though I don't always act like it, I really do trust you to do the right thing."
    • "You're smart. You have a lot of abilities, and you impress me a lot of the time."
    • "I'm so glad you're my (son, daughter). My life is better because of you."
    • "Even though I don't alwasy show it, I really do love you, exactly as you are. I may not like everything you do, but I do love you, that person you are deep inside."

    Say these things no matter how badly your child is behaving, or how you may feel about the potential for school violence. As a matter of fact, the more trouble they're having, the more they need to hear these kinds of affirmations.

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