School Shootings Aren't Caused By The Type Of Student That The
Media Tells You About
Teachers, principals and counselors: As most of you are aware,
some of the recent school shootings were apparently committed by
students who were not known for their acting- out behaviors, but
instead for their relatively quiet withdrawal and depression. We
have gotten quite a few calls asking for explanations. Youth
professionals are often more accustomed to preventing and
addressing violence from acting-out youth, and may feel less
prepared to prevent or address violence from other types of
Here are some of the questions we have been receiving at our
office and in our workshop:
Question: Why are some depressed, withdrawn kids becoming
Answer: Perhaps some of these kids are like pressure cookers
that build up so much steam that they literally explode. Many
professionals are used to seeing serious youth depression that
includes withdrawal, lethargy, reduced verbiage, reduced
activity levels, self-harm and/or threats of self-harm, and
comments reflecting hopelessness and despair. But, some
depressed youngsters may explode out of that "acting-in" into
Question: Our staff has had a lot of training on preventing and
managing violence by acting- out students such as conduct
disorders. Is there much difference working with students who
normally act in?
Answer: Yes, it is almost a completely different process.
Perhaps the two most compelling difference are these: First,
there may be fewer overt cues to help you spot the acting-in
student before the violence occurs. Second, the way you work
with the two sets of students should be completely different.
So, no, you can't just extrapolate your training on conduct
disordered youth, for example, to depressed students. Question:
How does my school or agency know if we are prepared as best as
possible to avoid serious violence from acting-in students?
Answer: Your staff should be able to identify at least three
types of students who may be at highest risk of extreme
violence, and how they must work differently with each type.
There is no substitute for gaining a more sophisticated
understanding of your different populations and also learning
which tools to use with each type of youth.
Question: Some states are now considering laws that will mandate
how schools discipline bullies. Will that be a big help?
Answer: Not necessarily. Your depressed student doesn't always
blow up over one single problem like being harassed by peers. A
better solution might be to educate youth professionals to
understand how the peer harassment affects the vulnerable
youngster, but also teach all about that student, not just this
one element. It is unlikely that there is a quick and simple fix
to the serious and complex emotional problems that developed
over the entire child's lifetime. The better solution would be
to ensure that all youth professionals have a complete and
sophisticated understanding of their different types of kids.
Professional development classes like ours' are designed to
efficiently do that. There may not be any easy shortcuts or
bypasses to updating staff skills.
Question: So stopping bullying is not the whole answer to
stopping serious violence by acting- in students?
Answer: That is correct. While it is a definite help, remember
that it doesn't always take a "big thing" to set these kids off.
Sometimes, the triggering event can be as simple as "that girl
didn't look at me." Unfortunately, "the straw that broke the
camel's back" phenomenon can often occur.
Question: Can you list at least a few key do's and don't's on
preventing violence with depressed youth?
Answer: This list is absolutely no substitute for a thorough
Don't add to their burdens; Don't permit them to face
unnecessary problems like endless peer harassment; Don't ignore
the often quiet signs of major depression (many are noted
above); Don't pressure them; Don't forget about them-- the quiet
ones so often go unnoticed.
Do involve them in talking out problems to avoid building up
problems; Do involve them in exercise; Do have them evaluated
for anti-depressant medication; Do teach them coping and social
skills (including peer interaction skills); Do build a strong
bond; and, in the words of one depressed youth, Do "make it
safe, make it okay."
Want more information on depressed youth and violence? This
isn't a topic that is widely covered-- especially if you are
seeking practical tools, not just theory. The fastest, most
thorough solution we know about is our Breakthrough Strategies
Workshop (live or on tape). It is a very thorough resource that
puts you in the depressed child's world, and gives you specific
do's and don't's. It would hopefully reduce the "guess work" and
guide you through your interactions with this student. Visit http://www.youthchg.com/li
ve.html for more info.