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What if the next shooting is at my school?

This fact sheet is part of the Teen talk: a survival guide for parents of teenagers series.

The news is often filled with reports of school shootings and other violence. This makes all of us fear for the safety of children in schools. It's natural to feel afraid. But we can't let fear drive our response to school shootings. And we need to step back and get perspective on the issue.

As hard as it might be to believe sometimes, research shows that shooting incidents at schools have been declining since the 1990s. Statistically, school is the safest place for children to be. The majority of children are safe at school. It's important to keep this in mind as you talk to your teen about school shootings.

How to talk to your teen

It’s important to talk to your teenager about school violence and listen to his thoughts and concerns on this issue. Here are some tips on the matter:

  • It's OK to express fear about school shootings and compassion for the students and families who have survived these horrors.
  • Explain that there is a difference between students acting eccentric and having severe problems that lead to extreme violence.
  • Tell your teen how important it is to let you or another adult know if she hears another child threatening violence toward himself or others.
  • Talk about what it might feel like to be an outcast at school and find out if your teen is having trouble fitting in.
  • Teens are aware of social issues so talk with them about bigger issues, like gun control and what they can do to help keep their school safe.
  • Talk with your kids about solving problems constructively. Help them find appropriate solutions to problems without using violence.

How schools can help kids stay safe

Reducing violence in schools requires a joint commitment from the school, the students, the parents, and the community. Here are some practices that schools have found to be effective:

  • Increased supervision by administrators and security guards.
  • Checking visitors’ IDs.
  • Recording all incidents of violence in full detail.
  • Keeping track of students who have been in trouble in the past, either in school or in the community.
  • Increasing mental health services for students.
  • Making peer counseling available.
  • Teaching conflict resolution or anger management.
  • Eliminating backpacks or restricting their use.

What we know about teen shooters

Students who are potentially violent tend to exhibit more than one of the following traits:

  • Inability to recognize their own anger and redirect it so it does not lead to violent behavior.
  • Difficulty recognizing others’ feelings.
  • Feeling no remorse.
  • Believing that the only solution is to take matters into their own hands.
  • No positive role models.
  • Feeling unloved at home and unaccepted at school.
  • Experienced either physical or psychological abuse, or neglect.
  • Inability to see their future.

Be aware of these additional warning signs in teens:

  • Name calling, abusive language, and threats of violence.
  • Preoccupation with weapons or violence.
  • Cruelty to animals.
  • Problems with drugs or alcohol.
  • Discipline problems at school, such as truancy or expulsion.
  • Few or no close friends, feeling like an outcast at school.
  • Bullied or bullies others.
  • Preference for movies, TV, music, video games, reading materials, or clothes with violent themes.
  • Expressions of anger, frustration, or violence in writing or drawings.
  • Suicide threats or attempts.
  • Depression or mood swings.

Where to go for help

Note that there is a difference between feeling down one day and being depressed. It is not normal for teenagers to be severely depressed or extremely moody! If you observe any of these behaviors in your teen or another teen, contact the school counselor, your physician, or a mental health professional.

Related resources

About school violenceCenters for Disease Control and Prevention — Learn the definitions, review the data and statistics, and get prevention strategies.

Resources to help children in the wake of a school shootingChild Trends — Learn how to talk with children and teens about school shootings.

School safetyNational Crime Prevention Council — Tips and resources for students, parents, and teachers to help keep America's schools safe.

For parents: Violence preventionNational PTA — What PTAs can do and where to learn more information.

A positive school climate can mean a successful school yearChild Trends — An outline of what a positive school climate looks like for students, staff and families on a day-to-day basis.

Jodi Dworkin, Extension specialist and associate professor in family social science

Revised 2011.

Reviewed in 2018

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