School violence actually has decreased in the past 10 years, but mass killings of children in schools have increased. The school shootings of Littleton, Colo., and in suburban Atlanta are two examples of this. Angry students often make threats against teachers, school officials and other students. How can you tell when to take these threats seriously?
Two researchers, J. P. McGhee and C. R. DeBarnardo, studied the lives of 13 adolescents who had killed other students in school-based shootings. Writing in the May 1999 issue of The Forensic Examiner, they used the term “Classroom Avenger” to describe these youth. As a result of their study, they found a way to identify those adolescents who were likely to kill in school.
Researchers found that the typical Classroom Avenger was very emotionally troubled. He was depressed, stubborn and easily angered. He had few friends and was interested in guns, bomb making, movies that portrayed violence and violence-filled websites. He would talk about his plan to kill others by writing in his journal or diary, “Tomorrow is the big day!” or words to that effect.
The violent acts committed by the adolescents in this study took place soon after a negative personal experience, for example, the loss of a girlfriend, receiving school discipline, treatment that was perceived as unfair, public ridicule or bullying by peers. Classroom Avengers often suspect others are against them. The triggering event confirms in their minds that they are mistreated and so they seek revenge.
The violent events were carefully planned, often with complex details. In every case but one, the Classroom Avenger used guns that were owned by his family. This ready access to weapons was a key factor in predicting acts of violence.
Professionals who work with these adolescents advise the following preventive steps:
- Remove all guns from the home.
- Get the adolescent and his family into therapy. Treat his depression and help him see how his thinking is distorted.
- Finally, work on building social skills so the adolescent learns to manage his conflicts without resorting to violence.
Orlosky, M. (2006). School Violence: Identifying At-Risk Teens. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 8, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/school-violence-identifying-at-risk-teens/000529
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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