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School Violence: Expert Advice on What Can Be Done

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? continued...


Teasing is a very common factor in these incidents. Teasing can be very, very destructive. In a school where I do consultations, teasing is absolutely forbidden. As soon as it happens, the teacher stops the activity and talks about it with the students: "How would you feel if somebody teased you? Can you imagine how the other kid feels if you tease him?" Teasing has to be dealt with as a group situation.


S. Hoffman: Easy access to weapons; kids feeling alienated and bullied at school, misunderstood by the people around them -- those are just some of the causes. Kids are also exposed to violence in the media and video games, which may desensitize them to the realities of those actions. And these kids don't see any alternative. They see violence as a way of resolving their own internal pain.

What can parents do to make the situation better?

Fink: Poor parenting is part of this issue. My advice to parents is to pay attention, listen to their children. Hear their pain; listen to their complaints. At the Columbine incident, a ... kid was warned that there would be a shooting. Also, parents have to be vigilant, have to watch what their kids are doing. We want to allow children to grow up and be free, but we have to watch what they are watching, their Internet access, the Game Boys.


L. Hoffman: Probably the most important lesson for parents -- and teachers, too -- is to listen to kids. These are kids who are in tremendous pain. It's the internal pain that really gets them going -- the need to undo that internal pain. We underestimate the power of listening and saying 'I'm going to help you,' and when necessary, referring them for professional help.


Frustration and self-esteem are also big issues. Even something that seems innocuous -- like those candles on a birthday cake that you can't blow out -- a kid can feel very frustrated by that. A sensitive kid can feel like 'they're playing too many tricks on me.' It's the kind of thing parents have to watch. And teasing, again -- the hostile element of teasing is very overt -- it can especially affect sensitive kids, affect their self-esteem. Their reactions to bad situations may be to do something very grandiose. Like the Rambo movies: 'I'm going to go out and shoot all the bad people.' That's a grandiose response against feeling so weak inside.


Shaming is another issue. When something minor happens, parents need to speak to their kids, but it's another thing to make a kid very ashamed -- [to feel] that they're a terrible person for doing this minor thing. It doesn't have to do with strictness; it has to do with emotional communication that a parent has with a child. 'I may be punishing you, I may be setting limits, but I still respect you as a person.'

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