Sue Scheff: School Violence – Teens bringing weapons to school

Last week I wrote about School Violence.  This is a topic every parent, teacher, guidance counselor and all that work with kids today need to take the time to be educated about.  What happened in South Florida last week is yet another wake-up call.  Connect With Kids has this timely article with parenting tips.  Be an educated parent, you will have a safer teen.

weaponsSource: Connect with Kids

Bringing Weapons to School

“I’ve done jail time I never thought I would do because I had a weapon at school.  You know, I might have felony charges.”

– Scott, 18 years old

It’s happened again- another murder in an American school.  This time it was a student stabbed to death by another boy at an affluent high school in suburban Miami.  The boys were reportedly fighting over a girl.

But why did the boy bring a weapon to school in the first place?

Eighteen-year-old Scott may shed some light on this problem.  Now in an alternative school, he says he brought a gun to school for two reasons.  “Maybe I thought I’d be a little safer, and just having a weapon, you just feel like you’re a little more important.”

Experts say safety and status are often the reasons kids bring weapons to school.  “Kids carry weapons for the same reason that adults carry weapons, for self-protection,” says Dr. Katherine Christoffel with the Handgun Epidemic Lowering Plan Network.
 
“Or, they want to feel powerful,” says psychologist Dr. Nancy McGarrah.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 percent of students say they’ve brought a weapon to school in the past 30 days.  And nearly half say it’s for protection.

“It tends to be kids with low self-esteem, kids that don’t feel like they have a lot of power and control in their life in general,” Dr. McGarrah says.
 
Eleven-year-old Philip, who is only in 6th grade, brought a knife to school.  His reason: to defend himself against bullies, who he says are constantly on his case.  “Hitting you upside the head with books, or pushing your head into the locker – it just, it scares you.”
 
Experts say parents have to be very specific when discussing the consequences of taking a weapon to school.  Explain in detail the many ways students could be caught, which would likely lead to arrest, followed by being kicked out of school.   
 
Scott would give kids this message: “There’s many things that maybe you looked down the road your life thinking on planning on having, that’s just gone down the drain for having a weapon at school.”
 
Experts warn that logic may not be effective for all children.  If your child seems depressed, and especially if he shows an unusual interest in weapons, you may want to consult a professional therapist.
 
“You need expert help,” Dr. McGarrah says. “You shouldn’t try to handle that alone.”

Tips for Parents

According to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, children who witness violence have higher rates of mental disturbances, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, distress, depression and aggressive behavior.   While this isn’t surprising, researchers are taking interest in the increased number of U.S. children who witness violent acts in their daily lives.  The rate of incidence is especially high among inner-city youth.

Consider these facts from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):

  • New Haven, ConnecticutAlmost all eighth-graders who were studied knew someone who had been killed.
  • Los Angeles, California:  Researchers estimated that children witnessed 10-20% of all homicides.
  • Chicago, Illinois:  One-third of the children studied witnessed a homicide, and two-thirds witnessed a serious assault.
  • Boston, Massachusetts:  Of the children under age 6 who were surveyed, one of every 10 witnessed a shooting or stabbing.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana:  Fifty-one percent of fifth-graders in a study were victims of violence, while 91% witnessed some type of violence.
  • Washington, D.C.Thirty-two percent of children ages six to 10 in a study were victims of violence, and 72% witnessed some type of violence.

The results of the Harvard study on witnessing violence are echoed in previous research from the American Psychological Association (APA).  The APA says children who see violent acts are at a greater risk for becoming victims of violence or participating in violent behavior.  Growing up as a witness to violence can result in these additional consequences:

  • Substance abuse
  • Emotional disorders
  • Poor achievement in school
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Serious injuries
  • Health problems
  • Suicide attempts
  • Separation and divorce
  • Physical and mental disabilities

References

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Psychological Association
  • Harvard Injury Control Research Center
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