Addressing School Violence

By Booth, Brandi; Van Hasselt, Vincent B. et al. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, May 2011 | Go to article overview

Addressing School Violence

Booth, Brandi, Van Hasselt, Vincent B., Vecchi, Gregory M., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Incidents, such as the recent ones at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Northern Illinois University, produce horrifying, enduring images. Members of the mass media publicize and inadvertently glorify these events to capture the attention of viewers and readers. Unfortunately, many of the portrayals have led to faulty assumptions and stereotypes of the school violence perpetrator.

Further, researchers have devoted much attention to generating a working profile of these offenders and describing many typical characteristics.

However, it is important to caution against the use of a profile because many apparent warning signs may be irrelevant and restrictive and even could unfairly categorize a student who may not pose danger. (1) Therefore, an awareness of the potential warning signs empirically based in making accurate threat assessments in the school setting proves critical.



Homicides in schools have decreased since 1994 despite periods of copycat shootings during the late 1990s and 2007 to 2008. (2) However, simple and aggravated assaults, as well as drug/narcotic and weapon violations, increased between 2000 and 2004. (3) Bullying remains one of the largest problems in schools, with the percentage of students reportedly bullied at least once per week steadily increasing since 1999. (4) According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, school offenders typically are Caucasian males between the ages of 13 and 18. However, the number of girls involved in school crime has increased from over 12,000 incidents in 2000 to approximately 25,000 occurrences in 2005. (5) This included crimes ranging from those against property and society (e.g., criminal mischief, burglary, and drug/narcotic violations) to offenses against persons (e.g., assault, manslaughter, and murder).



Many factors can contribute to the development of a violent school offender. These include family, school, and social dynamics, as well as the personality of the child. (6)


Family Dynamics

Family dynamics include the thinking, traditions, beliefs, and behavior patterns within the home. These play a vital role in the social development of a young child. It is important to question how these dynamics affect and are perceived by the student. (7) For example, an abusive marriage or a particularly hostile divorce can have damaging effects on children. An adolescent who lives in a chaotic and neglectful home environment may develop poor coping and social skills and behavior problems primarily due to exposure to violence and inadequate parenting. (8) Not surprisingly, research has shown that in terms of the child's long-term social and emotional development, having one nurturing, attentive, and caring parent is better than two in a relationship characterized by discord or abuse. (9)

Although negative family dynamics play a role in the development of violent tendencies, many high-profile cases of school violence seem to have involved children from a positive home environment. For instance, Kip Kinkel, an individual who murdered both of his parents before killing two students and wounding 25 others in Oregon, appeared to come from an ideal family (two parents, upper-middle-class home, successful older sibling). However, a closer examination revealed a highly critical father and a child who perceived himself as inadequate, was physically awkward, and had a fascination with guns and bombs. In fact, to support Kip's interest, his father bought him firearms.

Several of the larger, more publicized school shootings took place in middle-class neighborhoods. People have raised many questions as to why these homicides occur in such areas. Experts have suggested that overly permissive or uninvolved parents of these children bear some responsibility. (10)

School Dynamics

School dynamics are the customs, beliefs, and patterns of behavior that comprise the campus culture. …

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