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Monday, 12 May 2008

School Violence in America: Why and What Now?

Written by  Rina Goldberg

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What on earth is going on?! Violent and bloody acts have plagued U.S. schools in recent years. Teenagers in Junior High and High Schools have been lashing out at their peers and teachers, gunning down tens of people, injuring and killing them. Since 1992, there have been 220 violent deaths on school grounds, an average of 37 per year (there have been 34 this year so far). This has caused concern and panic among Americans. From psychologists to criminal analysts, Oprah to the average layman, we are all talking and we are all shocked.

School is still one of safest places to be

While the media has hyped Americans into a frenzy over the recent shootings, statistically speaking, there has actually been a slight decline in school violence since 1992. Experts are debating over whether the problem of school violence is in fact a growing problem or not. From the numbers alone, schools remain one of the safest places for children to be.

However, even if incidences of school shootings are relatively rare and atypical, the fact that it is happening at all is still of tremendous concern for every student, teacher, parent, and person. There is a natural desire to understand why kids behave so violently, how such things are possible, and what can be done to prevent such tragedies from ever happening again.

What is the problem that pushes these kids off the deep end?

Problem #1: GUNS

Vincent Schiraldi, Director of the Justice Policy Institution in Washington, blames the recent wave of school violence on the accessibility of weapons. "It's nuts to think that kids are any crazier today than they ever were before, " he says. "I think they're just better armed."

In fact, eight U.S. kids die each day in guns related incidents, (3,024 a year), whereas the chances of a child being shot and killed in school are 1 in a million. Gun violence is of far more concern than school violence.

On the other side of the coin, many emphasize that guns do not kill people, people kill people. We are reminded again and again that people choose to use weapons, and it is they who are to blame, not the guns or the NRA.


Music, Marilyn Manson, the Goth culture, and obsession with death and Satanism have been cited by some as key players in sending kids off the deep end. Teens can get a hold a hold of anything from violent video games like Doom to directions on the Internet on how to build your own pipe bomb. It is said that the strong influence and extreme amount of exposure teenagers may have to these elements increases or even creates anger and provides them with groups that validate their negative interests.

The Goths, however, will tell you that they are regular people who are simply expressing their creativity and spirit via mode of dress, music, and other "dark" culture. They do not encourage evil, they are just not afraid of death.

However, the opponents of this type of culture do cast much of the blame on its preoccupation with death. James Garbarino (Time Magazine) comments that most kids who listen to Marilyn Manson, play the video game Doom, and dress Goth, are..."normal kids caught in a toxic culture."

Most people feel that you cannot totally blame killing on entertainment or culture. However, it is widely believed that such influences can fuel something dangerous in a person that is already there.

Problem #3: CLIQUES

Many believe that anger builds among teens as a result of cliques in school. Dan Savage, a sex columnist, writes, that "there are social dynamics in high schools that are every bit as murderous as what these kids did, except they've stretched out over years and years." He recollects his own high school years as "hell" and the horrible social pressure he had to deal with then.

Michael Thompson, Ph.D., co-author of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys says that boys nowadays are 'emotionally illiterate.' They do not have healthy outlets to express their feelings and emotions, so they come out in negative ways. Girls cry tears, boys cry bullets.

Problem #4: FAME LUST

Violence amongst teens can also be attributed to the desire to gain notoriety and fame. For example, in the largest shooting spree yet, in Littleton, Colorado, the killers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, made tapes before their rampage in which they declared that they wanted to be known forever and live in the minds and nightmares of all people forever.

Problem #5: FAMILY

A popular explanation given for violence among teens has to do with the family. Many believe that dysfunction, abuse, neglect, and other family problems are the causes of the violence. Supporters of this position believe that the problem starts when these children's lives begin. If their home lives were dysfunctional, their own lives will be too. This brings up a hot topic going around today as to the responsibility and role parents play in the lives of their (violent) children. Are they totally to blame? Are they to blame at all? What about kids who seem to come from stable, loving families who blow up schools or behave violently? How much of an impact does the family really have on the lives of children?

Parents vs. outside world

The U.S. legal system has always stayed away from placing responsibility on parents for their kids' crimes. Recently, however, Americans are shifting toward placing more responsibility on parents, stressing that they should be more involved in their children's lives and should pinpoint trouble spots in their kids.

Critics and psychiatrists warn against placing too much blame on parents. For one, it is very difficult to recognize mental disorders in kids. Parents are not born professional psychologists. Alvin Poussaint, a psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School, supports this argument saying, "Kids have a mind of their own. And also they are influenced by the outside world and by their friends." Kids do have a whole world outside their homes which affects them tremendously.

James Garbarino, (Time Magazine), believes that it is very possible for children who come from loving parents to live a secret life and be pulled into troubled peer groups that are just too much for them to handle. "Even loving, attentive parents can lose children who are temporarily vulnerable - if they develop a secret life, get caught up in the dark side of the culture and form dangerous peer alliances." It is very, very difficult nowadays for anyone, including parents, to distinguish between what is a "normal" culture for teens and what is a signal of a greater danger.

In the end, each case is different

We may never fully know the answers to our questions. Each case, each city, each child murderer and his family is different. It is all too complex, too unique, and the circumstances too individual to give any surefire solutions or reasons.

What now?

So what now? What can you do as a parent, as a teen, or simply as a member of society to prevent future reigns of terror at school?

All across the nation, community groups are forming, after-school activities are popping up, and communication lines between teens and adults are opening. Workshops in anger management and conflict resolution are developing in communities and schools around the country, and people, particularly teens, are thinking twice about teasing and harassing others in school. People everywhere are trying to improve their lives by taking lessons from these tragedies and treating each other with more kindness.


"So many times one hears of the terrible state of today's youth, and certainly, some have said that about this terrible tragedy. But as I read about all those innocent lives who were lost, and about the actions of those who helped others during the crisis, I realize that there are many, many wonderful young people in our world today. The young men who placed themselves as shields to protect their fellow students, others who helped rescue and lead to safety their fellow students... It has turned out that the terrible actions of two have brought out the finest of many. Young lives which never got the chance to change the world for the better are vicariously doing so by those lives touched by their stories."

- A message of hope from a man named Hal... found on an online memorial for the students and families of the Columbine massacre.

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 May 2011 07:42
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