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School Violence: Expert Advice on What Can Be Done

WebMD Feature

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.

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