School Violence: How Can We Keep Our Children Safe?
- Michael Smalley The Smalley Marriage and Family Center
- 2006 3 Oct
It is now confirmed that at least 6 people have died from a recent shooting at an Amish schoolhouse Monday morning in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and according to authorities, more people are still in hospitals recovering. Although this particular shooting was committed by an adult outside the local community, the recent tragedy heightens our concerns for our children in school. Why is school violence increasing, and even more importantly, what can we do to stop the violence?
School violence is sadly no longer a “freak” occurrence but rather an annual tragedy for multiple states in America. A recent study by the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice noted that 20 percent of all public schools from 1999-2000 experienced one or more serious violent crimes such as rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault.
School violence occurs because of a multitude of issues -- the primary issue being the relationship with the kids who commit the violence and their parents. Parents can have a profound impact on their children’s lives -- sadly, this impact can be negative or positive. Our job as parents is to be educated and aware of what our children are doing. Not in a pervasive or controlling manner, but in a, “I care about you and love to know what’s going on in your life,” kind of way.
School violence is increasing because a greater number of kids are not being cared for by their parents. Many parents today are either too busy with dual-income lives or their families have been ravaged by divorce.
Parents need to know who their kids are hanging out with and the kinds of friendships they are developing. If you notice that your child is hanging out with the “wrong” crowd, then you need to be able to address this with your child and seek to understand why he is befriending kids who don’t have the best reputations.
This all may sound like common sense to many Christian parents – yet violence continues. That’s because the parents who do care about their kids and actively participate in their lives typically don’t have kids who would commit these violent kinds of acts on other children. We don’t need to worry about the good parents and their kids. We need to worry about the neglectful parents, the tired parents, the broken parents. We need to be able to identify their children and then identify how we can reach out to the kids – and their families - who really need positive influences in their life.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has these following tips on how to recognize a kid who might turn violent:
• loss of temper on a daily basis
• frequent physical fighting
• significant vandalism or property damage
• increase in use of drugs or alcohol
• increase in risk-taking behavior
• detailed plans to commit acts of violence
• announcing threats or plans for hurting others
• enjoying hurting animals
• carrying a weapon
If you notice the following signs over a period of time, the potential for violence exists:
• a history of violent or aggressive behavior
• serious drug or alcohol use
• gang membership or strong desire to be in a gang
• access to or fascination with weapons, especially guns
• threatening others regularly
• trouble controlling feelings like anger
• withdrawal from friends and usual activities
• feeling rejected or alone
• having been a victim of bullying
• poor school performance
• history of discipline problems or frequent run-ins with authority
• feeling constantly disrespected
• failing to acknowledge the feelings or rights of others
It’s not just parents who need to be able to recognize these warning signs. How many times, after a tragic event, have kids shared that they sensed something was “off” with their fellow classmate? Kids need to be actively aware of their schoolmates; they need to know the warning signs. Kids are not stupid -- they can notice these signs and are capable of going to their parents or authorities to help prevent violence. Ultimately, our hope for decreasing violence in our schools begins with our awareness of the danger signs for potentially violent students. Knowledge is power, and in this case, knowledge can literally save lives.
Michael Smalley and his wife Amy both earned a Master’s Degree in clinical psychology from Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois. For the past ten years they have taught millions of people around the world with entertaining stories and illustrations. Michael is currently the marriage and family director at their hometown church in The Woodlands, TX. Michael and Amy are also starting a new center called The Smalley Marriage and Family Center that will provide local pastoral counseling, special intensive retreats, and training for professionals and lay-people.
Michael and Amy have authored or coauthored relationship advice books like Communicating with Your Teen, the Men’s Relational Toolbox, and Don’t Date Naked.
The Smalley's have three children, Cole, Reagan, and David. They have been married for 11 years.