School Violence: Prevalence and Intervention Strategies for At-Risk Adolescents

Article excerpt

Many schools have become battlegrounds in which both students and teachers fear for their safety (Kingery, Pruitt, Heuberger, & Brizzolara, 1993). Interpersonal disputes between students and between teachers and students have increasingly resulted in aggravated assault and the use of lethal weapons. School achievement is sacrificed in this atmosphere of disorder, violence, and fear (Sturge, 1982).

Violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny/theft, and arson) are at some of the highest levels in history for adolescents (U.S. Department of Justice, 1991). In fact, the National School-Based Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1993) found that 18% had been in a fight at school. In the 30 days preceding the survey, 6% reported carrying a gun, knife, or club to school and 8.5% reported being threatened with such a weapon. Interestingly, many adolescents believe that violence is an effective way to resolve conflict. The National Adolescent Student Health Survey (1989) found that 78% of students believed they should fight if someone hit them, while 73% believed they should fight if someone hurt someone they cared about.

Because of the significant effects of violence on the psychological and physical well-being of youth, programs designed to help them cope with conflict represent a major priority for school health professionals and administrators. The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of a social-cognitive group intervention on violence avoidance beliefs among at-risk high school students. Particular attention was paid to the differences between students who used drugs/alcohol, fought in school, and were victimized at school and those who were not involved in these behaviors.

VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS

Violence within the school setting has devastating and long-lasting effects. Violence or the threat of violence reduces the ability of students to concentrate and learn (Toby, 1980). Since education is a prerequisite for success, any disruption is damaging to the students' future.

The weapons being brought to school have become more potent, increasing the probability that student altercations will end in serious or even fatal injuries (Ragguet, 1992). Specifically, national surveys have found that it is fairly common practice to bring weapons to school. According to Moore (1992), 26% of students reported carrying weapons to school, such as guns, knives, or clubs, at least once during the 30 days preceding his survey. Among those students who carried a weapon, 11% most often carried a handgun. The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (1990) found that guns were used in the majority of homicides involving youth in the United States. Most homicides among youth occur in the context of an argument and are committed by someone known to the victim. In these cases, the immediate accessibility of a weapon is considered by many as the factor that turns an altercation into a lethal event (Page, Becker-Kitchin, Solovan, Golec, & Hebert, 1992).

Large urban schools have generally been perceived as experiencing more violence. However, recent evidence suggests that rural areas are also plagued by violence. Kingery et al. (1993) collected data on school violence from 7th-12th graders in 38 rural central Texas school districts. More than half of the boys reported carrying a knife to school (twice the national average) and 18% of 15- to 17-year-old boys reported carrying a handgun to school (seven times the national average and a threefold increase from four years earlier). Further, most reported carrying a gun to school for protection or with the intent to shoot an aggressor. Results also revealed that in the 12 months preceding the survey, 16% of the students had been robbed, 37% had been threatened, and 15% had been physically attacked while at school.

Thus, violence among adolescents is a serious and growing health issue. …