Identifying & Preventing Violent Behavior in Elementary, Middle & High School Students

Educators and parents have an opportunity to understand patterns in children who are distressed, emotionally unattached or struggling to connect.  Below are some ways, by developmental age, to understand patterns which can be headed off early with the right intervention. By making ourselves aware of these indicators, we can work more quickly with experts to get students the help that they need before more dangerous behaviors develop.

Fifth Grade and Under:

Anger is a signal emotion, says Joshua Sparrow in his Parent & Child Magazine article, “Manage Anger.” Anger can emerge in response to danger or sometimes as a form of self-expression. Young children are impulsive by nature and their anger can easily be triggered by always being told what to do, knowing bigger people have the control and that they will be made to do certain things. Children learn by example: Show your emotional intelligence by sharing your emotions with your child and showing how you will mindfully react. Share solutions with your child and encourage your child to add their input. When anger turns to aggression, Sparrows recommends using the following four techniques to help calm the child and help them understand their feelings:

1) Stop the action and restore safety: Isolate the fighters so they feel safe and in control of their environment.

2) Set limits: Show the children you are in charge by making the rules and stringently following them.

3) Follow through with consequences: A child has to know that his or her actions have consequences, and the only way they will understand this is by you showing them.

4) Forgive: Make sure you reinforce that a child’s actions were bad, not that they’re bad people. Make amends so guilty feelings don’t fester and it’s reinforced that they can avoid this bad behavior and punishment in the future.

Middle School -

Bullying that leads to teen suicides and mass shootings have become a terrifyingly common concern and reality in schools. According to Middle School Journal, research shows bullying usually peaks in late childhood/early adolescence, making middle school a crucial time for bully intervention. Also, even though mental illness cannot be prevented, early detection can minimize or prevent many disabling and distressing effects of a mental illness. Researchers agree that the most effective way to battle bullying is comprehensive and requires students, schools, families and the community to band together.

At one school, the drama department and the counseling staff came together to develop an anti-bullying program. The drama teacher wrote a play, Bullybusters, which played-out students getting bullied and how the deal with the bullying. A study on the effectiveness of the play showed dramatizing the bullying scenario gave students the necessary distance to learn coping skills from characters and also see bullying as a universal problem for their school. After the play, a discussion was held where students could talk about their feelings and share ideas on how to deal with bullying.

High School and Beyond- shows an effective progression of a life of violence through statistics. In the five numbers below, you can see how one act of violence is only the beginning of violent behavior that not only has consequences for the individual but the entire community.

  • According to more than 1 in 3 high school students, both male and female, have been involved in a physical fight. 1 in 9 of those students have been injured badly enough to need medical treatment.
  • The 2002 National Gang Trends Survey (NGTS) stated that there are more than 24,500 different street gangs in the United States alone. More than 772,500 of the members of these gangs are teens and young adults.
  • The 2002 NGTS also showed that teens and young adults involved in gang activity are 60 times more likely to be killed than the rest of the American population.
  • A 2001 report released by the U.S. Department of Justice claims that 20 out of 1000 women ages 16 to 24 will experience a sexual assault while on a date. And that 68% of all rape victims know their attackers.
  • The U.S. Justice report also stated that 1 in 3 teens, both male and female, have experienced some sort of violent behavior from a dating partner.
  • Violence Warning Signs for Teenagers

    The National Youth Violence Prevention Center has compiled the following list of warning signs that your teen may be having anger management issues:

  • Frequent loss of temper over small issues,
  • Frequent physical fighting with friends, acquaintances and family members,
  • Damaging property while in a fit of anger,
  • Use of drugs and/or alcohol,
  • Written plans for violent acts,
  • Carrying a weapon(s),
  • Been the victim of school bullies,
  • Gang affiliations,
  • Failure to acknowledge the feelings of others
  • Fascination with weapons and
  • Cruelty to animals.
  • Who are the people at school and in the community who can be of help to parents and teachers? says, bullying prevention should not be the sole responsibility of one person. Get involved at home and find support in the school from teachers, administrators, counselors and non-teaching staff. Finding a bully-prevention team may not be immediate, but once people see what you are accomplishing, more support usually follows. What other formal processes do you believe we need to put into place right now to keep students and others with these issues safe?  Join the conversation and let us know your thoughts.

    Tomorrow, as the services begin for the victims in Tucson, we’ll look at ways you can help students on how to grieve  and honor those who have lost their lives.

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