Schools have gotten safer over the years but students still fear every day. Acts of violence can disrupt the learning process and have a negative effect on students, the school and the community. In this paper I will explain the different violent behaviors that students and staff have to deal with on a day to day basis; bullying, fighting, weapon use, cyberbullying and gang violence. Also, how these different behaviors affect children when it’s occurring and how it later influences their adult life. The effects of school violence can lead to division and severe mental and physical trauma for both perpetrators and victims alike. Together the schools, at home and the community need to create a safe and supportive environment for students to prevent the rise of violence.
School Violence and How It Affects Children
Bullying at school is an age-old problem and until recently, many took the “kids will be kids” attitude towards the problem. Students, staff and parents all have an important role in promoting school safety. Violence is widespread in the United States. It can differ in magnitude depending on the community and demographic group, negatively impacting all that is involved. It can occur in both passive and physical forms, causing both bodily and psychological trauma. Passive forms of violence include verbal threats, intimidating and cyberbullying. Physical forms include fighting; punching, kicking, biting, slapping and can involve assault with a weapons or gang violence. What makes a child want to bully another? I ask myself this when I hear the news and find out there was another school shooting or an injured child due to violence.
What would trigger a child to be violent towards another person? Bullying is a distinctive pattern of harming and humiliating others, specifically those who are in some way smaller, weaker, younger or in any way more vulnerable than the bully. Bullies are very often people who have been bullied or abused themselves. Sometimes they are experiencing life situations they cannot cope with, that leave them feeling helpless and out of control. Many times, a bully wants to feel powerful in a way that their peers respect them, in occasions turning that respect into fear. Being feared feels like a power to them it’s a way to gain followers or friends that look up to them. Most of their “friends” follow and do as the bully says, they fear the bully and don’t want to be the next victim. Though bullying is a learned behavior, genetics can play a part. For instance, some people are more predisposed to violence and aggression. However, not all people with these tendencies become bullies. Some are able to find ways to take out their aggression and anger in more manageable and healthy ways. It can be a simple matter of nature versus nurture. Another commonality in bullies is that they are attention seekers. Though the attention they receive is negative they still crave it as often it is the only attention that they receive. Home routine and how the child’s parents or people in their life deal with stress and everyday problems can also trigger the way a child behaves. Some children may have parents who do not care about their behavior and may even encourage them to continue acting that way. On the other hand, some parents might be fearful of their child’s actions and may not know how to disciple them or make their behavior change. If the parents can’t manage to discipline or encourage them to change their behavior the child learns they can get away with their behavior. Children need to be disciplined in a consistent way, and learn the rules of conduct and respect for authority.
Today’s teens are more exposed to weapons right in their homes, particularly guns. More than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools in the United States have experienced a shooting on campus since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which is sometimes cited as the first in a string of modern mass school shootings (Strauss, 2018). What happens to students after such a traumatic experience? How are they affected? For those involved in a mass shooting or some other violent event not only can they suffer from physical injuries they may also have to deal with the psychological trauma it leaves. “Mass shootings are a first-line traumatic event that can potentially trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in people who are directly exposed, as life and limb are under direct and violent threat. Children, in particular, are even more vulnerable; multiple studies have shown that childhood trauma has more lifelong and pervasive effects on young developing psyches, both in terms of their psychological worldview, and their physiological systems that handle stress and anxiety. On a secondary level, the threat of mass shootings throughout schools is also damaging to mental health; safety and security are always paramount to a child’s healthy psychological development, and this constant anxiety and sense of danger will disrupt that sense of security, and put all children at risk of developing anxiety and mood disorders.” (Jean Kim, MD). Witnessing a traumatic event is not easy for anyone, adults and children involved need all the care and support to overcome such a disgraceful event. Allow the child time to heal, reassuring them that they are safe. Watch for any changes in behavior or demeanor and get them the help they may need. It can also be stressful on the parent or guardian, thinking they failed their child for not being there to protect them. Everyone involved needs to work together to reassure each other’s wellbeing and safe recovery from the physical damages or psychological traumas caused by the event.
Child and teen bullying are at the all-time high. 1 in 5 high school students reported being bullied on school property in the last year. Bullying is among the most commonly reported discipline problems in public schools. Nearly 12% of public schools’ report that bullying happens at least once a week. Reports of bullying are highest for middle schools (22%) compared to high schools (15%), combined schools (11%), and primary schools (8%). More than 15% of high school students report being cyberbullied in the last year (“Preventing Bullying,”2019). Common types of bullying include physical, emotional and/or social. Physical type includes hitting, kicking, punching, spitting, tripping or pushing. Emotional types can be teasing, name calling, inappropriate sexual comments or verbal/ written threats. And lastly, social type is excluding someone, spreading rumors or making embarrassing comments. Some consequences of bullying can result in physical injury, emotional distress, low self-esteem or even suicide. When you do not feel wanted around your peers it can increase the risk for depression and anxiety, lower academic achievement or result in dropping out of school. These acts can and often do, have lasting lifelong effect on the victim changing their life and outlook on the future. If a child continues being a bully till they are teens, there’s an increased risk for substance abuse or experiencing violence in adulthood. If the bully is not stopped and treated then the chance of them stopping is very slim and their behavior will continue into adulthood, affecting the type of life they lead.
No one will ever know the exact reason as to what causes more extreme cases of school violence however, prevention is key. Bullying does not have to be a reality that one must live with. Bullying is preventable. If a person is being bullied they should tell someone; a parent, teacher, or counselor. Parents must take an active role in their child’s life and safety. If a parent knows that their child is bullying, then they must take steps to stop this behavior. Going to counseling can help get to the root of the issue and help the bully to change their behavior before it is too late. If a person is a witness to a bullying event, then it is their responsibility to step in whether by taking up for the victim or by getting an adult right away. The bystander effect is no excuse and can cause further future damage to the victim and the bully. Saying nothing is almost as bad as committing the bullying acts itself. Here is a list of strategies from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) on preventing the start of bullying: promote family environments that support healthy development, provide quality education early in life, strengthen youth’s skills, connect youth to caring adults and activities, create protective community environments and intervene to lessen harms and prevents future risk. Rather than focusing on what is behind violence in schools or what can happen as a result of it, we all need to become focused on preventing the violence. It may not be happening to you personally, but it is everyone’s responsibility to help stop it.
- Strauss, Valerie. “How Mass School Shootings Affect the Education of Students Who Survive.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Feb. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2018/02/20/how-mass-school-shootings-affect-the-education-of-students-who-survive/?utm_term=.84fd179eb4e1.
- Jean Kim, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at George Washington University, Medical Officer at the FDA
- Preventing Bullying. (2019, April 25). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/bullyingresearch/fastfact.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fviolenceprevention%2Fyouthviolence%2Fbullyingresearch%2Findex.html