School Violence in the United States

School violence has largely become one of the greatest issues the United States is facing in the 21st century largely due to the underlying issues that are present when violence in schools occurs. When school violence is in the news, oftentimes it is associated with school shootings. There are questions that need to be asked that involve the issues that led to someone committing such violence to hopefully prevent this from happening again, but it seems as if the problem is much bigger than solving what seems to also be a mental health crisis.

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Bullying or the home environment could be major factors into the reasons why a student wants to commit violent acts towards their classmates or school staff and could be the key in helping to prevent future acts of violence in schools.

Acts of bullying or being harassed are nothing new to the 21st century as it has occurred for centuries in various forms, both reported and unreported. With today’s technology advances, bullying has become more prevalent and is no longer just confined to school grounds. With the internet and cell phone usage on the rise, bullying takes on new forms. It is no longer contained to face-to-face contact, but also includes cyberbullying with many ways to harm an individual. The most common places where it occurs is through social media, text messaging, instant messaging, and email (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). This type of bullying can be dangerous because online content such as photos, social media posts, or text messages can be shared and often viewed by their peers or even strangers (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

One might assume that since technology has become widely used in the United States, there would be more studies done to analyze cyberbullying behaviors to help staff members in schools or parents and guardians recognize the signs or behaviors of bullying to assist in preventing situations from escalating or to help give those who have been victimized a voice as oftentimes bullying can go unreported. However, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, there have only been three studies to their knowledge that have examined various factors or behavior of cyberbullying from 2000 to 2017 (Cyberbullying Research Center). This statistic is concerning given that according to DoSomething.org, about 75 percent of students admit they have visited a website bashing another student (DoSomething.org). While cyberbullying is occurring more frequently through recent years, other types of harassment have been prevalent for centuries.

Bullying can also fall under harassment, which can be based on race, sex, color, age, disability or religion (National Association of School Nurses, Inc.). Students who are most vulnerable to this type of bullying are those with disabilities, speech impediments, academic difficulties or physical features such as children with glasses or those who are overweight (National Association of School Nurses, Inc.). According to statistics from the Anti-Bullying Institute, one in seven students in the grades K-12 are either a bully or have been a victim of bullying and an estimated 160,000 children in the United States stay home due to the fear of bullying or intimidation from other students(Anti-Bullying Institute).

Not only are students subjected to harassment if they are more likely to have a physical or mental disability, but gender, religion, and sexual orientation appear to play an unfortunate role in bullying, as well. According to a statistic from the research, 83 percent of girls and 79 percent of boys report experiencing harassment (Anti-Bullying Institute). Bullying can also result in how a student may feel over someone else’s sexual orientation. According to a statistic, nearly nine out of ten LGBTQ youth report being verbally abused because of their sexual orientation (Anti-Bullying Institute). Religion is also another factor into bullying in schools. According to a statistic, 57 percent of boys and 43 percent of girls reported being bullied because of religious or cultural differences.

Children who are more apt to bully may also have difficulties in their home environment. Studies show that, Four-year-old children who receive emotional support and cognitive stimulation from their parents are significantly less likely to become bullies in grade school, but the more television four-year-olds watch the more likely they are to bully later (Journal Of The American Medical Association). According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, there are three possible predictors of future bullying behavior (Journal Of The American Medical Association). These predictors are: that parental emotional support helps young children young children develop empathy, self-regulation, and prosocial skills and might be protective; that bullying might arise out of early cognitive deficits that lead to decreased competence with peers; and that television violence may produce aggressive behavior (Journal Of The American Medical Association). These predictors are helpful in discovering ways to influence the prevention of acts of bullying that may lead to school violence in the home environment, however, there must also be an influence of prevention from schools.

Schools are becoming an important part in preventing bullying behavior or school violence. However, according to a statistic, nearly 70% of students think schools respond poorly to bullying (Anti-Bullying Institute). As someone who works in a public elementary school, I have seen evidence of bullying in a school and the response to bullying from the school’s perspective. It is highly important to keep your eyes open to witness any behavior that may be suspicious of bullying. According to a statistic on this topic, when bystanders intervene, bullying stops within ten seconds, 57 percent of the time (Anti-Bullying Institute). Bullying occurs because students are often motivated by the power and high feeling they can receive from harassing a classmate or young individuals. Students who pursue bullying may be compensating for what is occurring in their home life or their emotions from school or other factors.

Harassment and bullying can also have a long-term effect on students from a physical and mental health perspective, even those who witness another child being bullied (Bullying No Way!). Children that see bullying often feel like that is the normal behavior on how to act towards other students or peers (Bullying No Way!). According to an organization, Bullying No Way!, research shows that bullying has a negative impact on kids self-esteem, academic performance, coping skills and can increase unhappiness and anxiety. That is where the mental illness falls into place (Bullying No Way!). With mental health in question, oftentimes bullying may escalate to worse situations than mental abuse or physical violence. Students may get their hands on various weapons and decide to bring them to school to commit gun violence against students and school staff.

According to a statistic on school shootings, 75 percent of shooting incidents at schools have been linked to bullying and harassment (Anti-Bullying Institute). In just the past 2 years, school shootings have become what seems like the new norm, yet have been happening at least since the 1970s. According to a report from researchers of the Department of Education and the Secret Service, they studied 37 incidents of targeted school-based violence between 1974 and 2000 (Winn). The school-based violence was either a current or recent, former student who attacked someone at his or her school with lethal means; and where the student attacker purposefully chose his or her school as the location of the attack (Winn). The report also found a few notable statistics: all of the attacks were committed by males, 98 percent of the attackers experienced or perceived a major loss prior to the attack, most attackers used a gun as their primary weapon, with 61 percent using handguns and 49 percent using rifles or shotguns (Winn). These statistics fit possibly the first school shooting for recent generations to remember, which was the Columbine High School shooting. Two male teens joined together to go on a shooting spree that killed 13 people and wounding more than 20 others, before committing suicide on April 20, 1999 (History.com Editors). During that time, Columbine was considered the worst high school shooting in U.S. history (History.com Editors). Since Columbine, countless other school shootings have occurred that have been declared the worst school shooting in U.S. history, that matches many of these statistics, of the description of the type of weapon or individuals who perpetrated the violence. However, there have also been smaller school shooting situations that may not have gotten much media attention.

On September 20, 2017, a school shooting attempt occurred at a high school in Mattoon, Illinois near where I work, which is at the elementary school. The gunman was a freshman, who was apparently bullied, and had brought a gun into the cafeteria and fired a shot off which had hit one student before a staff member sprang into action to stop the shooter from injuring or killing others (Vivanco-Prengaman). The student was detained and charged with one count of aggravated battery with a firearm (Vivanco-Prengaman). I remember being outside on the playground supervising the recess at the elementary school when we got the call to immediately get everyone inside. We did, and as students started showing up, the emotions were high and students were scared. It was a very emotional day for me, but more so for the students. Seeing the kids come together, hugging each other making sure there friends and others were safe was a bright spot in the gloomy day. If it wasn’t for the brave teacher, more kids would have been injured, if not dead. This a prime example of how many organizations from the federal, state, and local level, as well as schools and those responsible for raising children should work together or strive to prevent such acts of violence.

The argument on school shooting prevention could be made solely on gun control due to the weapons typically being used in school shootings, however, it must start at many levels other than a political movement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that research shows prevention for school violence can be made based on the efforts by teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and even students (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there must be strategies based levels of an individual, relationship, community, and societal in order to lower the risk of school violence.

On an individual level, a child’s experiences, knowledge, and skills can influence their likelihood of becoming involved in violence (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Encouraging a child’s abilities to solve problems or difficulties and giving them opportunities to engage in social activities that are positive can reduce their involvement in violence (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). On a relationship level, positive types with peers with good influence, teachers, and families are a critical factor in promoting a child’s well-being, which also helps prevent school violence (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). On a community level, the social environment that occurs in schools can greatly influence a child’s motivation for violence. This is why it is extremely important for schools to improve not only a plan in case of a school shooting, but to also improve the promotion of learning and support effective classroom management practices, promoting cooperative learning techniques, providing educators with training and support to better meet the diverse needs of students, providing opportunities to actively engage families, and creating open communication and decision-making processes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). On a societal level, conditions and systems must be put in place to assist a certain social and cultural environment that may elevate the likelihood of school violence (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

School violence is simply something that no one can ignore. From a mental health and home environment aspect, it is important to remember that these students who commit such violent acts may be the bullies or may be tired of being bullied, yet may feel that they have no way out other than to turn to violence. It is important for individuals to understand that these children deserve to go to school and feel safe. It is up to the older generation to shape the lives of our children and to put forth efforts that prevent these crimes from happening whether on a political or social level.

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