School Violence: Expert Advice on What Can Be Done
March 13, 2001 -- Over the last few years -- with
all-too-frequent regularity -- we've seen violent acts committed in schools
across the country. In the wake of the recent Santana High School attack, there
are more reports of rumors, threats, and incidents of kids bringing weapons to
class. What can be done about this national problem? For answers, WebMD turned
to three of the nation's experts on school violence.
When you've finished reading, you'll be able to weigh in with
your own opinions by sending a letter to the editor.
Paul J. Fink, MD, is a professor of psychiatry at Temple
University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, past president of the American
Psychiatric Association, and chair of the association's task force on
psychiatric aspects of violence.
Leon Hoffman, MD, is a child psychoanalyst and co-director of
the New York Psychoanalytic Society's Parent-Child Center.
Suzanne Hoffman, PhD, is a psychologist with Baron Center in
San Diego, Calif., a counseling center that specializes in school violence
prevention. She was among those called in after the Columbine incident.
Kids have always been bullied at school, and adolescence has never been easy. Why are we now, at this time in America, seeing such a huge wave of school shootings?
Fink: These are kids who are troubled for a number of
reasons, not just from being bullied. Most of them have had a traumatic
situation or some deprivation -- something -- in their home lives. [Because]
they come from nice, middle-class homes does not mean there isn't potential for
a lot of deprivation. You drive by these nice homes, and you don't know what's
going on behind the shutters. There can be physical or sexual abuse, neglect.
Kids may be treated badly in many ways, and we just don't know it.
There's also an enormous amount of imitation -- a lot of
copycat incidents. Plus, there's a growing sense of what kids are learning from
TV and video games -- that the way to solve a problem is to kill somebody.
There's nothing about conflict resolution; no sense of morality; no fear of
sanctions, of consequences -- just real negativity, a sense that this is the
way you deal with people you don't like: You blow them away.
And the very availability of guns is a major problem. It's very
easy for young people to acquire a gun. Ask any kid in high school. People out
there will sell a semiautomatic weapon for $50 to $100 just to get rid of it.
And an estimated 150,000 kids take guns to school every day. It's not a small
issue. It's hard to tell you how awful, how dangerous, this situation is.
L. Hoffman: Kids with troubles read about these
incidents and see an amount of glorification -- that people won't listen to me
now, maybe they'll listen to me this way. But why one kid does something like
this and another kid doesn't ... it's very individual. Predicting it is like
predicting the weather. Little changes that go on in a kid's life can lead to
good consequences or bad consequences.