How do I speak to my children about school violence?
By definition, school violence is youth violence that occurs on school property, on the way to or from school, or during a school sponsored event. School violence can take on a number of different forms including weapon use, bullying, fighting, and electronic aggression. Statistically, most youth violence has involved persons between the ages of 10 and 24, although the pattern is shifting to involve even younger individuals.
Although any death occurring in the school setting is unacceptable, deaths occurring in the school setting are rare. Of all youth homicides, less than 3% of these occurred at school.
More common than deaths, however, are non-fatal victimizations that occur in the school setting. In 2014, the CDC reported 486,400 occurrences of non-fatal school violence. A 2015 national survey of youth in grades 9-12 found the following:
- 7.8% reported being in a physical fight on school property during the 12 months prior to the survey
- 5.6% reported that they did not go to school on one or more days in the 30 days prior to the survey because the felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school
- 4.1% reported carrying a weapon (gun, knife or club) on school property on one or more days in the 30 days before the survey
- 6.0% reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property one or more times in the 12 months before the survey
- 20.2% reported being bullied on school property and 15.5% reported being bullied electronically during the 12 months before the survey.
Sobering statistics such as these make it clear that there are legitimate concerns among students regarding school-related violence. Many youths struggle to understand why anyone would do such a thing and question their safety at school. Even though there are no easy answers when addressing these concerns, it is important that parents be able to provide sound, rational advice when addressing their fears and anxieties.
Here are several suggestions offered by the non-profit organization, Mental Health America, to help guide parents through difficult discussions with their children about school violence:
- Encourage children to talk about their concerns and to express their feelings. They may not understand the term “violence” but can talk to you about being afraid or a classmate who is mean to them.
- Talk honestly about your own feelings regarding school violence. It is important for children to recognize they are not dealing with their fears alone.
- Validate the child’s feelings. Do not minimize a child’s concerns. Let him/her know that serious school violence is not common, which is why incidents such as Columbine and Conyers, Georgia attract so much media attention. Stress that schools are safe places. In fact, recent studies have shown that schools are more secure now than ever before.
- Empower children to take action regarding school safety. Encourage them to report specific incidents (such as bullying, threats or talk of suicide) and to develop problem solving and conflict resolution skills.
- Discuss the safety procedures that are in place at your child’s school.
- Create safety plans with your child. Help identify which adults (a friendly secretary, trusted teacher or approachable administrator) your child can talk to if they feel threatened at school.
- Ensure that your child knows how to reach you (or another family member or friend) in case of crisis during the school day. Remind your child that they can talk to you anytime they feel threatened.
- Recognize behavior that may indicate your child is concerned about returning to school. Younger children may react to school violence by not wanting to attend school or participate in school-based activities. Teens and adolescents may minimize their concerns outwardly, but may become argumentative, withdrawn, or allow their school performance to decline.
- Keep the dialogue going and make school safety a common topic in family discussions rather than just a response to an immediate crisis. Open dialogue will encourage children to share their concerns.
- Seek help when necessary. If you are worried about a child’s reaction or have ongoing concerns about his/her behavior or emotions, contact a mental health professional at school or at your community mental health center. Your local Mental Health Association or the National Mental Health Association’s Information Center can direct you to resources in your community.
While there are no statistics to indicate that physical violence in the school setting is increasing, there is concern that electronic bullying, also known as cyberbullying, or online social cruelty may be on the rise.
With the widespread increase in electronic communication among today’s youth, this is an issue that deserves ongoing attention.
Sources for article:
About School Violence from the Centers for Disease Control
Talking To Kids About School Safety from Mental Health America
Checklist to Help Prevent Violence in Schools from the National PTA
If you have any more questions just Ask Hanna, our health advisors are here to help.
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