In nearly every school’s mission statement, it is stated the school will provide a safe environment for all children; yet, every day on the news, there are stories in which a teenager commits suicide or a teenager has inflicted pain on another student. Most of these stories stem from one common denominator: the student had been a victim of violence in schools. In recent years, it seems these types of news stories have been on the rise and brought to many people’s attention.
When a student enters a school building, it should be a safe haven where the students feel protected and out of harms way; however, that is not always the case. All over the country, many students fear entering school buildings because they know it is a place where they may be teased, bullied, and physically or mentally abused. Educators must be aware of these issues and educate themselves on how to keep students safe both in and out of school.
The American Federation of Teachers (2010) suggest in order for school violence to decrease there must be a district wide commitment to safe, orderly schools, including a real effort by district officials to stand behavior school employees with the support they need – and a commitment by administrators to forge a cooperative effort with school employees aimed at educating students, parents and member of the community about the need for tough but fair discipline policies (Behavior-Management Techniques for Safe Schools pg. 2).
Moreover, schools need involvement from all stakeholders in the school district to ensure proper plans are put in place to deal with violence appropriately when situations arise. Physical violence is defined as an “aggressive behavior where the actor or perpetrator uses his or her own body or an object (including a weapon) to inflict (relatively serious) injury to discomfort to another individual” (Angkaw p. 4). One common misconception is people believe school violence will not happen at their schools; however, the reality of it is that violence is happening in nearly every school.
As author Wilde asserts, “There are no completely safe schools or communities. The epidemic of violence can happen anywhere” (Anger Management in Schools, 2002 p. 2). When one assumes violence would not happen at their school, this is turn creates naive, preconceived notions which ultimately inhibits school stakeholders to create a plan of action incase a situation were to arise and more importantly, for educators to take threats seriously. Accepting the harsh reality violence can happen anywhere is the first step for schools to take in the process of creating a plan for a safe environment for their students.
Violence not only poses a threat to individual students, but it also “disrupts the learning process and has a negative effect on students, the school itself, and the broader community” (Centers for Disease Control 2008). One of the biggest concerns for teachers is visually seeing the violence occur. In most cases, violence occurs when a teacher is not present; therefore, it can become a complex task to identify those that inflict violence on others (unless it is physical violence) because it becomes a “he-said she-said” guessing game.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states most violence occurs during transitional periods such as lunch, passing periods, and before or after school. In order to reduce the number of violent acts, schools must ensure staff is properly supervising and monitoring in multiple locations throughout school grounds during transitional periods. The question arises why there is a widespread violence in schools during students’ teenage years. According to authors Kindlon and Thompson, “Dramatic statistics confirm that boys, as a group, are more aggressive and violent” compared to girls (Raising Cain p. 19). The authors claim the common trait among boys who commit crimes is the boys are angry thus they hurt those around them (Kindlon and Thompson p. 220). In the book Secrets of the Teenage Brain this anger is explained due to the low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulate mood, and acts as a calming agent (Feinstein p. 123). The serotonin levels directly affect the emotional amygdala, which is a hormone that controls the energy in the decision-making process. Thus, the logical part of the brain has less energy than the emotional areas of the brain resulting in an unbalance.
As a result, teenagers tend to act on impulse, using their emotional side of the brain, rather than using the logical side (Feinstein p. 123). Statistics show students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are more prone to commit violent crimes and be victims of violence. Gunn (2004) notes, Countless boys in these communities are deprived of meeting their potential because they are routed by circumstances that are largely beyond their control […] teens try to establish their masculinity […] it is unlikely that one’s academic success is going to help on to establish a masculine identity in such communities (p. 4). One solution to keep such at-risk students from violence is to keep them active. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes we must engage our nation’s children at every stage of their life to teach them violence does not solve any problems and “the respect for others is the foundation for a safe and healthy society” (Aarons 2010 p. 43). One prime example of how to engage students in an activity to initiate the decline of violence is explained in the book, Secrets of he Teenage Brain (2009).
In one case study, Eddie used violence as a way to stop people from teasing him about his weight. The boy knew he should not use violence as a means to solve the problem, but he was becoming very upset. The principal talked to him about starting a club for people who were collectors. After a month, Eddie and the principal had found others to join the club. Eddie now had a new focus and it took away from his thoughts of the name-calling he endured. Eventually, the new hobby consumed his time; therefore he did not think about the name-calling from classmates (Feinstein, p. 16). In a report conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2008), 24 percent of students stated they had gangs at their schools. A common theme among gang members and others who promote violence is an unstable home environment, “Many children with persistent behavior problems lead very unpredictable lives. An organized environment can replace their feelings of insecurity” (CDC 2008 p. 3). Many times, these students do not know how to deal with their emotions properly other than using violence.
These teens have grown up witnessing violence as the solution to solve many problems. Moreover, mentors need to be assigned to at-risk students who may fall into the pattern of violence behaviors. Techniques on how to control emotions, with the use of violence, should be taught to give at-risk students effective strategies to control their anger, “Research has shown the mentoring, when implemented correctly, can significantly improve school attendance and performance, reduce violent behavior and improve relationships” (CDC 2008 p. 3).
To prevent the widespread epidemic of violence, The American Federation of Teachers (2010) suggests implementing the processes of prevention and intervention to decrease the amount of violence in schools. Strategies to prevent violence are to provide the student with a structured environment and to monitor student behavior. When students have a structured environment, they feel more secure; however, a structured environment is not always so easy to create, as teachers cannot control what goes on at home. Nevertheless, teachers can provide stability hile the student is at school by providing “set rules and routines, and well- established schedules and arrangement” (p. 3). Monitoring student behavior is essential to ensure the student is on track and is not deterring from the righteous path. Teachers can monitor a student’s progress by checking the student’s behavioral progress and adjusting the interventions as needed. If a student has already been prone to behave in violent ways as means to express their angry emotions, intervention techniques must be put in place to show the student the proper way to deal with such emotions.
One intervention method is the implementation of social skills training. As indicated by the American Federation for Teachers (2010), some students have never been taught how to behave; therefore, the student struggles to cultivate relationships with others and struggles to deal with social confrontations effectively (p. 3). The report generated by the American Federation for Teachers (2010) states social skills instruction should include: 1. Identify the social skills that need improvement. 2. Model the skill to show students how the skill should be performed.
Students may also watch other students use appropriate social skills which ultimately can lead to imitations of those skills. 3. Practice the skill. Allow students the opportunity to practice through role-playing situations. 4. Reinforce the skill. Give students reassurance and let them know how they are behaving and performing the skills. Rewards may be used to increase motivation to behave well. Anger-management training may also be put in place for children “whose behavior is disruptive often and have difficulty expressing anger in acceptable way” (Behavior Management Techniques for Safe Schools p. ). For these students, coping skill training helps them to resolve conflicts without “coercion, physical force, or aggression” (Behavior Management Techniques for Safe Schools p. 4).
The goal of coping skills training is to show aggressive students there are ways to control anger by using proper strategies to avoid “unnecessary conflict with others” (Behavior Management Techniques for Safe Schools p. 4). Anger control strategies include: 1. Promote self-instruction in which the students use self-talk to manage anger. Students should replace negative thoughts with positive comments to eevaluate the situation. 2. Implement relaxation skills in which breathing and physical exercises are put in place to reduce stress and physical symptoms of anger. 3. Show students social problem solving strategies to view confrontational situations are problems to be solved, not battles to be won (Behavior Management Techniques for Safe Schools p. 4) Today, school violence does not only include physical altercations because “not all injuries are visible” (Understanding School Violence p. 2). An estimated 160,000 students a day miss school due to fear of being victims of bullying (Pullock 1998).
This is an alarming statistic that shows something must be done to prevent such a disruption in a child’s education. The CDC (2008) asserts, “Victims of bullying can “suffer serious injury, significant social and emotional damage, or even death”. Even though the abuse is not physical and does not leave marks, it can still damage a student’s social and emotional behaviors. According to the Stop Bullying Now website, approximately 15-25 percent of the United States children are bullied regularly. As aforementioned, violence becomes a disruption to the learning process.
Not only are confrontations disruption, but the worry the bullied endures takes away from his education. Author Barbara Coloroso explains, “The bullied spend class time figuring out ways to avoid the bully. He can’t concentrate on schoolwork. [He] feels helpless and hopeless” (The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander p. 7). Children who are bullied have more on their mind than just school; they have to strategically plan their day so they can avoid bullies at all costs, thus inhibiting them from giving all their attention to their school work.
The most notorious news story which shook the nation and brought attention to the effects of bullying was the tragic events at Columbine High School. Two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were targets of bullying because they did not fit in with what was considered the norm, “Kids who don’t fit into the honored and revered cliques are often subjected to cruel and persistent bullying” (Coloroso p. 26). Eric and Dylan were subjected to harsh criticism by their classmates due to the fact they did not participate in sports and were not view as popular; instead, they were at the bottom of the “caste system”, as they called it.
Eric and Dylan made video tapes and wrote down their feelings of anger toward this caste system in which athletes were favored prior to killing 12 classmates and one teacher. Coloroso asserts, “Administrations in such setting either turn a blind eye to the abuse [endured by the “rejects”] heaped on the lower group by the upper echelon, reinforce it, or contribute to it by denying the problem” (The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander p. 26). Due to the constant bullying, these two young men chose to use violence as a way to deal with the anger that had built up over the years toward the taunting they received.
Unfortunately, they did not find any solution in their problem and took the lives of innocent bystanders and their own. With the increasing number of students who have internet access at home readily available to them, there has been an increase in cyber bullying. With such websites as Myspace and Facebook, teenagers are more connected outside of school walls than ever before; moreover, bullying is also on the rise because of these connections. School-aged children can create personal pages in which they “friend” other classmates.
Because some teenagers lack empathy for others, they will post negative and demeaning comments towards others on their Facebook “wall” for others to see. Because teens yearn for a sense of belonging and acceptance, such comments can be extremely hurtful and detrimental for meaning teens. On a survey conducted by i-Safe America, 57 percent of the students said someone had something hurtful toward them, while 13 percent said it was a usual occurrence. 3 percent of the participants admitted to saying something mean or hurtful on the internet toward other teens. 35 percent said they had been threatened online; however, the alarming statistic is 58 percent of those surveyed said they did not tell their parents about such occurrences (Keith, &ump; Martin, 2005). These online occurrences can overlap to the school buildings because much of the conversations held by students is about what happens on online websites. Students may be a victim of harassment because of something they said, did, or saw on Facebook.
Also, with the option to upload pictures, students may send unflattering pictures, or use Photoshop to alter pictures, to harass and bully other students. Nonetheless, the internet is not going away and will become more advanced as the year pass. Furthermore, teens need to be educated on safe practices online to ensure they do not bully or become the target for bullying. In conclusion, school violence is on the rise and educators need to ensure properly methods and procedures are in place to avoid violent behaviors from students.
Teachers should monitor student interactions with each other to make certain no issues of bullying or violence is taking place. As parent Cindy Key said, “Our main issue is that respect and tolerance need to be taught in our schools, and it should begin in grade school. We are concerned about bullying and teasing, and taunting. We can spend all the money in the world on security around the school, but it won’t do much good if students don’t feel safe inside the school” (Coloroso p. 27). When students come to school they should not do so in fear.
They should feel safe and welcomed without the worry of taunting, teasing, or violence. School districts need to provide professional development and assemblies to discuss such issues with students. Teachers need to bring these issues to students’ attention by incorporating such issues in daily lessons and emphasizing the zero tolerance for such behaviors. After, the goal of educators is to mold students into productive members of society. If they cannot behave and treat others with respect in school, they will struggle to do so once they enter “real world”.