The causes of school violence are complex and varied. Forensic psychologists who study criminal behavior believe school killers are very different from other violent youth, such as gang members or drug dealers. For whatever reason, they feel powerless and begin obsessing over killing or injuring others. They may make direct threats concerning those they feel are taunting or intimidating them. They often express these thoughts and plans to fellow students. In general, other students tend to ignore the comments or simply look the other way.
Students from Columbine High School mourn the loss of their friends and classmates after a tragic shooting at their school in 1999.
The decision to kill for these youth is not a sudden occurrence, but coldly planned. Use of guns gives them the power they felt deprived of, and makes those offending them powerless. In addition, the shooters become famous with their faces splashed across televisions screens nationwide. The violent outbreak turns the tables and gives them both the power and attention they seek. This type of offender is almost always male; females approach retribution in less direct ways, such as hiring classmates or others to kill those they wish to strike out against.
Each case may represent a unique combination of factors. Some are physical, some behavioral, and others are learned. Physical factors can include birth complications. For example, being deprived of oxygen during the birth process can lead to brain dysfunction and learning disabilities. Violent behavior has been linked to certain forms of these abnormalities. Similarly, head injuries have been shown to increase the potential for violent behavior in certain individuals.
Behavioral problems can be linked to a difficult personality, which leads to problems of interacting with others, impulsiveness, and being unable to conform. These children may not blend into school activities and become ignored and rebellious. Some become depressed and take medication that can produce serious behavioral side effects. Broken family relationships can also be a major factor. Harshly treated children are more likely to behave violently later in life.
Being bullied or teased by others can often lead a troubled youth to violent revenge or retribution. This factor showed up repeatedly in the school shootings of the 1990s and beyond. It received the most attention from school administrators and others in the early twenty-first century.
Learning violent behavior can come from a dysfunctional or abnormal home life, perhaps involving domestic abuse or parents who do not respond well to authority figures such as the police. From this type of home environment, youth learn to react to authority such as teachers or school officials with aggression. Some believe learned violent behavior also comes from repeated exposure to violence in the media such as music lyrics, Hollywood movies, television programs, video games, and 24-hour news stations broadcasting violent or graphic scenes. Studies showed that youth exposed to an overwhelming amount of such material became more aggressive and no longer upset by violence and its consequences. These kids, it is believed, have trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy.
Schools themselves have changed a great deal since the 1950s, and by the later twentieth century they brought a wide range of students together from often markedly different social environments. Differences appear in attitudes and behavior that can lead to social cliques or racial tensions. A major change was the emergence of gangs, which doubled between 1989 and 1993. Gang activity within schools included recruiting new members, which often led to school violence as part of initiation. In addition, illegal activities in the vicinity of the school increased, such as selling drugs and firearms.
Yet another major factor in the rise of deadly school violence was the easy availability of firearms and other weapons. Estimates in the 1990s on the number of weapons brought to school on a daily basis were staggering. The number of guns brought into schools on any given day ranged up to over 250,000 and the number of knives more than double that figure.
To the media, the cause and effect of school violence is a self-explanatory negative that we should all aim to avoid. However, the fact of the matter is things are never that simple. There is much more to school violence than initially meets the eye. There isn't one factor that causes school violence (not music, bullying, or anything else), and there is not a clear effect that results from violence. Keep reading for more information on this controversial and emotional issue.
What Defines School Violence
We've all seen school violence on television news broadcasts; large tragedies like Columbine are quite difficult to forget. However, while that is one end of the spectrum of school violence, there is a whole other end to it. In fact, school violence can encompass bullying and seemingly insignificant behaviors that add up to teens feeling unsafe at school. School violence is a dangerous issue because it can be quite difficult to highlight exactly what causes it.
Ideas on the Cause and Effect of School Violence
Many experts, parents, and critics have tried to explain the cause and effect of school violence. Many have tried to blame violent video games that children play, music with suggestive and sensitive lyrics, and movies desensitizing children to violence. However, many critics of this perspective suggest that it is not the games but the effect of having a parent that never talked about the content of these media sources that can affect teens.
Another popular theory on what causes school violence is intolerance. In a world with so many different perspectives coming together, like different races, different sexual orientations and different nationalities, it can be difficult to feel like you fit in. It can be harder to find your place if everyone around you makes fun of you for the qualities which make you different. The intolerance that many face may contribute to school violence. Critics of this idea highlight that every teen faces intolerance on some level and that teens who "break" must be experiencing something different.
Another theory is that since the early 1990s, access to weapons and illicit substances has increased. As a result, teens try to emulate many of the more violent experiences they hear about in the media. This is also related to increased access to things like drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. Today's teens are exposed to these experiences in an entirely different way versus previous generations. Critics of this perspective highlight how prior generations did not have the same taboo of topics like smoking and would often become involved in these behaviors at an early age. To these critics, little has changed over the years.
Effects of School Violence
While it is easy to speculate about what the primary causes of school violence are, the effects of school violence are rather simple to see. One of the most damaging effects is the frequency of school shootings across America. Unfortunately, another visible effect is the loss of lives as a result of school violence.
Another effect of school violence is the shift that it brings to the educational process. Teachers are forced to be on the lookout for troubled students, rather than focusing on teaching alone. This heightened attention to school safety is unfortunately necessary, but it indicates a shifting perspective in American viewpoints of school. In some schools, teens may not be able to get as much of an education because educators need to be focused on keeping teens safe.
Another obvious effect of school violence is that many students end up feeling fearful of other students or of going to school. When dealing with school bullies, teens teasing one another, and past violent incidents, teens begin to fear what will happen to them everyday. Some parents react swiftly to these type of fears and look into homeschooling their own children.
Prevention Is Key
No one will ever know the exact reason as to what causes more extreme cases of school violence. However, no matter the expert, one thing everyone can agree on is that violence in schools need to stop. Rather than focusing on what is behind violence in schools or what can happen as a result of it, we need to become focused on preventing school violence.